PETA targets Costa Mesa, Laguna chefs for serving foie gras

An animal-rights group has sent letters threatening legal action to two Orange County chefs who serve foie gras.

The chefs serve fattened duck liver at Arc in Costa Mesa and Broadway by Amar Santana in Laguna Beach, drawing the ire of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

California banned the sale and purchase of fattened duck liver on July 1, but chefs Noah Blom of Arc and Santana found what they believe are legal ways to continue serving the French delicacy to their customers.

"No one has the right to tell people what to eat or not eat," Santana said. "Just because you're vegetarian, vegan or love animals, it doesn't mean your neighbor feels the same way."

Santana was offering a free side of foie gras with an order of a $55 glass of wine.

"The wine is very popular," Santana said.

Last week, Broadway served 50 orders of wine and went through about 12 pounds of foie gras, Santana said.

PETA, however, took issue with the chefs' efforts to continue serving the dish.

"You should not think that you can skirt the law's prohibition on sales by 'giving away' foie gras to customers or providing it 'for free with the purchase of a $55 glass of Sauternes," PETA attorney Matthew Strugar wrote in an April 8 letter to Santana.

Santana is flouting the law, Strugar said in an interview.

"The ball's in their court. We will seek enforcement in any way we can," Strugar said. "We're not just going to go away."

Blom received a similar letter for using foie gras in some of his off-menu dishes.

He was rendering foie gras into a sauce for a 42-ounce steak dish and said because the ingredient wasn't a focal point of the item it wasn't advertised on the menu.

"People don't even know they're getting until it's on the plate. That's where PETA and I disagree," Blom said.

As long as foie gras is in a dish that is sold, it is illegal, Strugar said.

"If you order a side salad, and it's listed as a salad, and you get tomatoes, nobody thinks you're getting free tomatoes," Strugar said. "If it's part of a dish which he is charging money for, it's a sale, it's a transaction and it's prohibited."

Prohibiting ingredients that add a great element to a dish takes the passion and love out of what chefs do, Blom said.

Instead, opponents have merely driven up demand for the foie gras, he said.

"PETA has made it more sought-after, creating this cult craze," Blom said.

Irvine-based Tasting Spoon food truck chef Joe Youkhan said he sold nearly 100 orders, or 28 pounds of foie gras, selling out in less than four hours, on June 30, the last day to buy or sell foie gras in California.

An earlier version of this story reported that the 28 pounds of foie gras was sold on June 31. That date does not exist.

"Customers came out specifically because they knew it was going to be the last day and others wanted to try it because they knew it would be banned," Youkhan said.

Although the ban is in effect, Blom and Santana agree that it is not uncommon for Orange County chefs to prepare foie gras for their diners who bring the ingredient to the restaurant or for regular customers that chefs have come to trust.

"Now that I'm on the radar with PETA, I'm more careful," Santana said. "I think they're sending people already to order it and try to catch me in action."

Strugar could not confirm PETA was sending in representatives to order foie gras at Santana's restaurant but confirmed PETA does occasionally send in people to see if allegations are true, including to Hot's Kitchen in Hermosa Beach which PETA is suing.

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