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Hungry Magazine - All Things Tasty
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08.08.06

A Matter of Taste-The Summer of Foie Gras

Bites: News and Miscellany


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This article first appeared in Newcity Chicago. Pics are taken from my 12 course foie gras tasting at Avenues restaurant in May.

foie torchon

Asparagus with bacon bits, confit duck egg, and foie gras torchon

If karma truly governs the universe, then someday my prostrate body will be pecked to death by a quacking covey of bloodthirsty Moulard ducks. I am a foie gras eater.

I’m not an apologist for the force-feeding of ducks, but either you eat meat, or you don’t. I am not a social philosopher, a scientist or a duck. There is no referee to settle whether ducks have greater civil liberties than humans, pigs or cows, and it’s impossible for me to gauge pain within a species that differs biologically from humans.

foie baklava

Foie Lollipop on a bed of shredded phyllo with honey and pistachio with foie torchon on a spiced krispie with strawberry pop rocks and frozen yogurt

When I saw that chef Graham Eliot Bowles was offering a twelve-course foie gras tasting at Avenues restaurant in the Peninsula Hotel, I started shaking like a heroin junkie in a methadone clinic. William Blake said, “The road to excess leads to the palace of wisdom,” and if I were going to explore the issue, Avenues restaurant would be the road where my own liver, engorged with the excess of a gastronomic bacchanal, would finally run out of gas.

scallops foie

Scallops, diced apple, micro-mint, rhubarb, in foie gras custard

The Avenues kitchen is a hearth of golden-toned tile. An army of copper pans catch the overhead light, casting orange reflections. The sauté chef sears off pink foie gras, ruddy lamb chops and milky turbot fillets. Over the course of my three-hour meal, she is always in the moment; her concentration never wavers from the first piece to the fiftieth. She bastes by repeatedly spooning the residual pan juices and coddles the meat with her offset spatula. I find out that she writes poetry, and I want to ascribe her treatment of the meat to an artistic sensibility, but the other chefs in the kitchen, none of them poets, act the same. The cooking is an orchestration of discrete repetitive movements: stirring, searing, seasoning and plating.

foie foam

Rabbit deconstructed five ways including bacon made from the skirt, loin, and stuffed saddle with foie gras whip cream

As I watch Chef Bowles contemplate a dish, the sauté chef tells me that Bowles encourages the staff to plate the same dish differently each time. She says, “You can see the artistry in everything he does.”

A beefy kangaroo carpaccio with zingy lime shavings, refreshing eucalyptus, juicy melon strips, smears of caramel, and crumbles of foie gras “snow” is served in a boomerang-shaped dish. If Foster’s is Australian for beer, this dish is Australian for “sublime.”

foie kangaroo

Rare prime beef is paired with molten seared lobes of foie, greenhouse spinach, and a garnet merlot reduction that tastes like mom’s cherry pie. You can taste the minerals from the soil in which the spinach grew.

foie milkshakeFor dessert, there is foie gras and raspberry milkshake. The glass is rimmed like a sweet margarita with fleur de sel and droplets of caramel. This is exhibit A in my case that everything tastes better with foie gras.

The heat lamps hanging over the pass are turned on only once during the night. This is not McDonald’s. Dishes pass precisely from kitchen to guest. You get lost in the craftsmanship, and were the food not a tasty spectacle, it would be beside the point.

For me, the foie gras issue comes down to a question of nobility between the Chicago city council ban and the craftsmanship of the Avenues chefs.

The ban itself is morally relative. How can the aldermen designate one form of animal slaughter as more torturous than others? How can they be meat-eating, leather-wearing legislators with no plans for other laws?

When I called the bill’s chief proponent, Alderman Joe Moore, and asked if he had ever eaten foie gras, he said, “I may have. I didn’t know what I was eating. But I am told by a friend of mine that dined with me at one of our trendy restaurants, a while back, this is before the controversy kinda blew up last year, that it may have been part of an appetizer that was served to us. But I honestly can’t remember it and I can’t remember what it tasted like.”

This Clintonesque waffling and judicious wordplay is disappointing. In contrast, when I asked Bowles about his decision to serve the Avenues meal, he said, “It’s our form of peaceful protest.”

turbot foie

Turbot, saffron, caper,raisin in foie gras vinaigrette

The Avenues chefs are resolute in their decision to cook meat, and they do so with exacting craft and ultimate care that reminds me of a quote from the great French chef Fernand Point: “If the divine creator has taken pains to give us delicious and exquisite things to eat, the least we can do is prepare them well and serve them with ceremony.”

Chicago aldermen are not short on ceremony, but if they approached their jobs with the same level of passion and deliberation as the Avenues chefs, one wonders if there would be a hired truck scandal, budget overruns at O’Hare, or if we’d even have a foie gras ban.

7 Comments on "A Matter of Taste-The Summer of Foie Gras"

ab

Assuredly, if the Chicago alderman even had a backbone, we wouldn’t have a Foie Gras ban. We have the misfortune of living in the age of cowering politicians who cower like abused puppies to asinine special interests, rather than dealing with real political issues in Chicago.

Wonderful report. Looks like I’ll be getting to the suburbs more often to eat…



Cynthia

Glorious-sounding meal. How long will this be served — right up to the date of the ban? Or has the opportunity passed us by?



Jeff

That meal looks like it was a lot of fun. Next up on the animals to ban list:

1. Sof Shell Crab
2. Live Lobster
3. Veal

Whole Foods is already on the bandwagon with 1 & 2. Now that the Animal Rights wackos have some victories in California and Chicago they are emboldened. I want some community to stand up to them. We only have like 3 places that serve Foie here in Milwaukee, so I don’t see this as a battleground, though the Anti-Foie group has the restaurants and owners listed so their brain-dead followers can send hate mail.



Sharon Carlaine

let’s break down force feeding for a moment…

I understand the view is that they have no gag reflex, then there is no real harm in the act but..

There are many physical effects of force feeding, just to name a few:

difficulty breathing
inability to walk or stand
lacerated or punctured trachea & esophagus
bacterial and fungal growth & infections on the lining of their organs
stomach and liver bursting
choking and suffocating on undigested food and/or vomit

And since the liver is so overwhelmed it can no longer function, which in medical terms is called hepatic lipidosis which in turn creates:

brain damage
eruption of the liver (if the liver explodes, no foie gras)
seizures
coma
severly large quantities of toxins released into the body

If this was at all a natural or welcomed occurrence, they could just put out excess food & they would overeat. The fact that this has to be forced to overeat shows how wrong it is. Also, they are being fed only corn and oil, which neither are obviously found in their natural diet, so their body fights to reject this mixture, and does not receive any protein or necessary vitamins to help their bodies fight.

To establish the facts, a hearing was conducted last month by the Council’s committee on heath, where it fell to veterinarian Holly Cheever to lay it all out. The birds are force-fed with pipes, explained Cheever. “There is food spilling from the nostrils of these poor animals, who choke to death. As the [enlarged] liver fails, they develop a brain condition. You will see birds having seizures or in comas still being grabbed and force-fed.”
-excerpt from the Chicago hearings

If these birds were treated this cruelly to feed the masses, maybe this could go unnoticed. They are performing these acts for only one organ, selling for up to $150 a plate.

Foie gras is also not even usually served on its own, other than in a mousse
dessert, or as an appetizer . It doesnt even fully feed a person. There are no school children getting nutrition due to duck liver, no impoverished countries living off the stuff. This is cruelty only for the rich & it is sick and disgusting.

And since the state of IL is taking steps to ban force feeding and eventually the sale of foie gras, you better run to your little suburbs quick!

Intelligence is being shown in :

NJ
NY
IL
Hawaii
MA
Philly

and hopefully the US will join the many countries who have alerady banned this.



Markus

The above individual is trying to impose her own views and beliefs on all of us. If she sticks to her beliefs, then there should be a ban on all animals being raised for food or other human use (e.g. leather, milk production, egg production). All animals should be allowed to roam freely. We should only wear synthetic materials - no more leather shoes. Hunting should of course also be banned (in particular because one can never be sure the animal will be killed immediately). How about fishing - a hook through the mouth is surely cruel and painful to the fish. I am happy to be living in Europe where we do not have as many of these PC extremists and people still have a much closer and better knowledge of the food they eat and how it is produced.



ken

Whoever is responsible for posting these AMAZING photo’s, please do not stop!!!

I am addicted to foodporn and these images are nothing short of hardcore:)



MJN

Well I took these, but we have some amazing photographers in Tuan Bui and Lara Kastner for the rest of the site.

Best,

Mike Nagrant



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