Just a week or so after a federal judge overturned California's two-and-a-half-year-old ban on the sale of foie gras, a slew of San Francisco restaurants have already put it back on their menus. Certain venues, like La Toque and Dirty Habit, even managed to conjure up foie gras specials or foie gras tasting menus on the very night the law was overturned.
But when contacted by Eater, neither Christopher Kostow of The Restaurant at Meadowood, nor Corey Lee of Benu, nor David Kinch of Manresa expressed a desire to start serving the delicacy right away as part of their longer tasting menus. Here's what they had to say.
Christopher Kostow, The Restaurant at Meadowood
On the ban: "It was obviously a silly thing to begin with. If I was looking to target some form of meat production, [foie] would be at the bottom of the list. Most of foie gras production is from small family-run farms, whereas most of the protein consumed nationally is from large, industrial factory farms, which are far more cruel on a far greater scale. So philosophically speaking, I think [the overturn] is fantastic."
Will he serve it right away? "No. We're not doing a foie gras parade of celebrations. It is a product that should carry with it a certain degree of reverence, owing to its price, owing to its history, and owing to the means of production; it's a very intensive way in which it's raised. It's a very valuable product in every way. So I never really understand the foie-gras-palooza dinners, where it's like, 'Let's see how much foie we can cook and serve.' We will put it back on the menu at some point. We never served much foie, other than as a garnish for other things."
What dishes would he use foie in? "The last dish we used foie in was with clam, foie and winter pea. I love foie, but in an elongated tasting menu, a portion of foie is bit of a killer; it's a bit deadening. We'll use it in concert with other things. We rarely do a straight-up foie course."
Corey Lee, Benu
Any plans to bring back the acclaimed foie gras xiao long bao at Benu? "I enjoy foie gras now and then, but I really didn't miss working with it as a chef. There are just so many other great products out there…and thinking about it further, I think I'm more excited to use foie gras at our French bistro, Monsieur Benjamin, than jumping to do foie gras again at Benu." [Editor's note: Foie gras is, indeed, now on the menu at Monsieur Benjamin; they're serving it atop rhum baba, or pan-seared with lentils and mirepoix.]
David Kinch, Manresa
How does he feel about the ban being overturned? "It was the right move. I feel there are more pressing concerns than the state legislating what .005% of the population can choose or not choose to eat."
Why isn't there a rush to put foie gras back on the menu? "Because everyone else is rushing to put foie gras back on the menu. To me, everyone putting it on the menu the next day is more about making some sort of political food statement. 'Okay, it was illegal. Now it's legal. And we're going to trumpet the fact that it's on.' There are plenty of people who can do that.
I write my menus with respect toward balance and availability. There's a flow. And just because some sort of legal decision took place, that's not going to affect how I write the menu. Am I going to use it again? Yeah, I'm going to use it when the time is right, when it fits the menu, when we're inspired to use it. I'm not going to be inspired by a bunch of knuckleheads in Sacramento."
Well, what would inspire you to use foie gras? "It's a great product to use. We've used it in the past. We've had periods when it was on the menu all the time. Then we had periods when it was not on the menu. But to go the next day? I had all these purveyors of foie gras call me the next day. 'Are you ready to put it back on your menu?' No, we're not. And maybe our situation is a little bit different; I don't want to say that we're rusty, but we are getting our sea legs back. We'd been closed for six months. It's not a matter of shifting gears rapidly, just to make some statement."