All-foie-gras dinner with Ludo Lefebvre and Animal
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Ludo Lefebvre of LudoBites and chefs Vinny Dotolo and Jon Shook, co-owners of Animal and Son of a Gun, are teaming up to prepare an eight-course foie gras dinner (yes, all foie -- including dessert) on Oct. 14 and Oct. 15. The foie party takes place at Animal, and the trio say they were compelled to fete fatty duck liver at least partly to alert people to the coming ban on the production and sale of foie gras in California.
‘We have a lot of respect for Ludo and wanted to cook with him, that’s how it started,’ Shook says. But also ‘as artists they’re taking a product from us that we love so much. For us it was kind of like saying, ‘Here, paint this picture but you’re no longer allowed to use the color red.’ ‘
The ban, signed into law by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2004, is set to take effect in July 2012 -- that’s nine months. Foie gras is produced by force-feeding ducks or geese -- a process called gavage -- so that their livers fatten. It’s the resulting fatty duck liver that is considered either a singular delicacy or totem of animal cruelty, depending on which side of the controversy you’re on. The controversy largely centers on whether or how much the birds suffer during gavage but also raises hot-button issues of sustainability and other meat-producing practices. Guillermo Gonzalez, the owner of Sonoma Foie Gras (the only producer of foie gras in California), did not return a call for comment. Rick Bishop of Hudson Valley Foie Gras in New York says that proper gavage -- in which a tube is inserted into the esophagus of the duck and corn feed is briefly pumped through -- ‘doesn’t stress them out in any way. It’s when the gavage is hurried that it’s a problem.’ But some chefs such as Wolfgang Puck and, famously, Charlie Trotter do not serve foie gras.
Meanwhile, others embrace it. One of Animal’s most popular dishes is foie gras loco moco: a stack of seared foie gras, burger, Spam and fried egg on top of rice. ‘They’re going to be removing this ingredient from menus and chefs’ repertoires,’ says Dotolo, ‘and it’s important to make more people aware of the situation and to take a stance for it, just as much as animal rights activists have taken a stance against it.
‘I believe in what foie gras is and being able to serve that ingredient as a chef. It was one of the things that was most inspiring to me as a young cook. One of the things that I never knew anything about as a child and fell in love with. I walked past it and smelled it when I worked for Michelle Bernstein –- ‘What the hell is this stuff?’ I’ve always loved it and honored and respected it as a culinary tradition, starting with the Egyptians and passed down from generation to generation.’
Lefebvre is no stranger to the heated debate surrounding foie gras. At a LudoBites dinner earlier this year, protesters from the Animal Protection and Rescue League gathered in front of the restaurant where he was serving foie gras quesadillas.
‘I don’t have a concern about the gavage,’ Lefebvre says. ‘I talk a lot to the people who produce my foie gras. I want to know where it comes from, how their gavage is. They don’t do extreme gavage.
‘What’s next? Veal? Caviar? It’s about politicians not controlling what goes in our mouths, what goes into the mouth of my customer. This is a free country. There are more important things to do, like feeding the hungry or stopping the state from going bankrupt.... I’m French. I will always have foie gras. I want to serve my foie gras. It’s like asking Korean people to not use kimchi. It’s part of my heritage.’
The planned dinner will be six savory courses and two dessert courses prepared by Lefebvre, Dotolo and Shook. It is $175 per person. There also will be a wine pairing option.
You can reserve after 2 p.m. on Thursday by calling the restaurant. Reservations by phone only.
Animal, 435 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 782-9225, Animalrestaurant.com.
-- Betty Hallock