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Trotter and Tramonto square off over Foie Gras

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Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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I read this thread this morning, before I went out to mow the lawn for the first time this yardwork season. While coaxing the mower through the tall weeds, and dizzy from the clouds of pollen the mower was raising, my mind wandered to the philosophy to be learned in this thread, and I was reminded of this famous quote:

"I am not a vegetarian because I love animals;

I am a vegetarian because I hate plants. "

A. Whitney Brown

I guess I hate ducks after all. And, is a vegetarian being hypocritical when he mows his lawn, and inhumane if the blade is dull? Is the Chik-Fil-A cow being unethical by encouraging us to "Eat Mor Chickin" and spare his own hide?

I profess to love animals, and all that, but I also have a refrigerator full of chicken breasts and cuts of beef. I conveniently choose not to think about how they once frolicked in the fields, how they met their demise, and were delivered to me in neat, sanitized packaging, and layed out in appetizing arrangements. Thanks to our friendly market purveyors and retailers, I don't have to. If I had the gumption or the stomach to plant, raise, cultivate, catch, harvest, slaughter, and butcher my own food, that would be one thing. But, my humble opinion is we are all hypocrites to varying extents when it comes to the things we eat... crossing the line to me is when we are saying one thing yet doing another.

Including all you plant-haters!

BTW, I'm not a foie gras fan, but I certainly respect it, even though I apparently hate ducks. And next time I mow, I'm definitely wearing a dust mask.


TomH...

BRILLIANT!!!

HOORAY BEER!

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I think Trotter comes off sounding like a self-righteous ass in the article.. He wants to concern himself with an issue of morality? There are people starving and he devotes his life to serving 100 dollar plates.. Shut up and cook.

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The debate continues today in the Chicago Tribune.

Chef Michael Kornick (formerly of Gordon's, currently at mk) disparages the Tribune's "disrepectful" coverage of Charlie Trotter (Kornick seems to forget that is was CT who suggested dining on Tramonto's liver), but here is the link:

Voice of the People, April 12


Edited by scordelia (log)

S. Cue

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I sympathize with Michael Kornick coming to the defense of an old friend. I would do the same thing. I would also tell an old friend privately he chose his words poorly. It was nice of the Chicago Tribune to publish an editorial that is essentially a glowing mini-biography of Trotter.

I don't see it has continuing the debate so much as calming it, which is a good thing.


I can be reached via email chefzadi AT gmail DOT com

Dean of Culinary Arts

Ecole de Cuisine: Culinary School Los Angeles

http://ecolecuisine.com

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I sympathize with Michael Kornick coming to the defense of an old friend. I would do the same thing. I would also tell an old friend privately he chose his words poorly. It was nice of the Chicago Tribune to publish an editorial that is essentially a glowing mini-biography of Trotter.

I don't see it has continuing the debate so much as calming it, which is a good thing.

It looks as if it's labeled as a letter, rather than an editorial, which seems to me like less of an edorsement of the views expressed. I agree, many people would do that for a friend. It seemed quite unexceptionable to me except for that tiny paragraph at the end, because the tastelessness was (as pointed out above) in what T. said.

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From Michael Kornick's letter to the Chicago Tribune linked above:

. . . Recently this newspaper has chosen to comment on Trotter and his work over the last 18 years in a way that's insulting and inconsistent with the thoughts of everyone in the culinary community who knows about his work.

Well, clearly not everyone.

It's a nice letter of support from a friend which seems to completely disregard many facts about the situation, like Trotter's vitriol, for example.

=R=


"Hey, hey, careful man! There's a beverage here!" --The Dude, The Big Lebowski

LTHForum.com -- The definitive Chicago-based culinary chat site

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I sympathize with Michael Kornick coming to the defense of an old friend. I would do the same thing. I would also tell an old friend privately he chose his words poorly. It was nice of the Chicago Tribune to publish an editorial that is essentially a glowing mini-biography of Trotter.

I don't see it has continuing the debate so much as calming it, which is a good thing.

It looks as if it's labeled as a letter, rather than an editorial, which seems to me like less of an edorsement of the views expressed. I agree, many people would do that for a friend. It seemed quite unexceptionable to me except for that tiny paragraph at the end, because the tastelessness was (as pointed out above) in what T. said.

Okay. It's the editorials section, under voice of the people (letter).


I can be reached via email chefzadi AT gmail DOT com

Dean of Culinary Arts

Ecole de Cuisine: Culinary School Los Angeles

http://ecolecuisine.com

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It looks as if it's labeled as a letter, rather than an editorial, which seems to me like less of an edorsement of the views expressed. I agree, many people would do that for a friend. It seemed quite unexceptionable to me except for that tiny paragraph at the end, because the tastelessness was (as pointed out above) in what T. said.

You are correct. It was a letter, not an editorial.


S. Cue

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Pascal Aussignac, the chef/proprietor of the Club Gascon has some things to say about this that of special interest to me.

He will, he says, vigorously resist any attempt to ban production. "It is part of my culture, part of my tradition. We would lose a way of life. We would lose the artisanal farmers, whose livelihoods are marginal, and who depend on foie-gras production to keep going."

Important point. Other farmers and artisanal makers in the area would also suffer. The continued production of terroir based foods are intertwined, the winemaker, the cheesemaker, the baker, etc and the chef... We would lose our food culture and end up shopping at hypermarches, eating at Chez MacDo, drinking California swill.

He agrees with Rowley Leigh that there are massive differences between methods of production. He criticises intensive production, not simply on the grounds of cruelty, but also on the grounds of quality. "The livers are not nice, not good. They don't look or smell healthy, and their don't taste good." He extols artisanal husbandry. "The liver of an intensively reared bird is ready in nine days. It takes 21 days for the liver of a non-intensively reared duck or goose too reach 500 grams. They are allowed to range freely. They eat what they like.

I've visited foie gras farms in France. I prefer goose foie, but the ones I've seen have usually been much bigger than 500 grams. Anyway,Pascal Aussignac makes good points about artisanal husbandry.


I can be reached via email chefzadi AT gmail DOT com

Dean of Culinary Arts

Ecole de Cuisine: Culinary School Los Angeles

http://ecolecuisine.com

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I would agree that foie gras is as wicked as fornication, at least to some, some of the time. Perhaps to all of us, all of the time, allowing license on one's definition of "wicked." I strongly object to any inference however, that puritanism is latent in the US. It's hardly latent.

I question the statement by Pascal Aussignac, the chef/proprietor of the Club Gascon in London, that gavage is unecessary to produce foie gras, but perhaps he is just trying to distinguish between the degrees of mechanization and accepting much smaller livers as foie gras. Artisanal goose farmers in Gascony have always relied on a tube to feed the geese to make foie gras, although it's traditionally been done by hand and first hand accounts report that the geese come running to the person with the tube. The same has not been said for ducks, although they don't necessarily run the other way.

Those who are interested in the elimination of a degree of cruelty (assuming we will still slaughter living things for food) should in my opinion, present a more logical argument about production methods across the board if they want to appeal to the rational element of the public. That appears to be the gist of this article as well. Not only are the livers of artisanally raised water fowl better than those raise in factory conditions, but so is the flesh of all poultry. Unfortunately price is an issue. Not surprisingly, many of those who rail against foie gras at any price, demand cheap chickens for their table.


Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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How very strange that Pascal Aussinac basically says the same thing I said about raising geese without gavage. It does take more time, but I already said the same thing. And what is to say that the extra nutrition by supplimenting all the natural feed they got, such as bugs, grasses, seeds, grain, oyster shell, with a big trough of cooked buttered noodles every evening as they were penned for the night did not make for "fat enough" livers?

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I question the statement by Pascal Aussignac, the chef/proprietor of the Club Gascon in London, that gavage is unecessary to produce foie gras, but perhaps he is just trying to distinguish between the degrees of mechanization and accepting much smaller livers as foie gras. Artisanal goose farmers in Gascony have always relied on a tube to feed the geese to make foie gras, although it's traditionally been done by hand and first hand accounts report that the geese come running to the person with the tube. The same has not been said for ducks, although they don't necessarily run the other way.

You're correct gavage is traditionally used. I also got the impression that he was trying to sort degrees of mechanization. Hand feeding is very different from machine feeding. If a feeder had to literally "force" each animal it would be impossible. If he also means to accept smaller livers of foie gras I personally agree with that.


I can be reached via email chefzadi AT gmail DOT com

Dean of Culinary Arts

Ecole de Cuisine: Culinary School Los Angeles

http://ecolecuisine.com

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My understanding is that traditionally, even the artisanal geese tenders used a rod to push the food through the hand held funnel in Gascony and the Perigord.


Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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Smaller livers may not be quite as good as larger livers, but they are better than no livers. If that is what it took to assure good animal husbandry and the continued existance of foie gras as a culinary item, I could live with that.


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

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- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

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Smaller livers may not be quite as good as larger livers, but they are better than no livers. If that is what it took to assure good animal husbandry and the continued existance of foie gras as a culinary item, I could live with that.

The smaller livers that can result from artisanal farming actually have superior flavor. That's not too say smaller livers in of themselves had superior flavor. That's to say artisanal animal husbandry overall produces superior products. And sometimes smaller livers are a part this and those smaller livers have just as much flavor.

Foie gras in France is not consumed the same way as it is in the States. Most of it is had between Christmas and New Years when lot's of "everyday" folks indulge as part of traditional meals.

Whereas in America, foie gras and truffles by the way have become so strongly associated with FD that it symbolizes it for many.


Edited by chefzadi (log)

I can be reached via email chefzadi AT gmail DOT com

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Ecole de Cuisine: Culinary School Los Angeles

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Smaller livers may not be quite as good as larger livers, but they are better than no livers. If that is what it took to assure good animal husbandry and the continued existance of foie gras as a culinary item, I could live with that.

And this, of course, is the ultimate question. You can get "fat" livers from ducks and geese by just giving them access to lots of food. But there's a noticeable difference. A 500-gram goose liver is smaller than most modern duck foie gras, just to provide perspective. Consumers currently don't accept a "fat liver" as foie gras. Perhaps this is just a matter of educating them, or as docsconz implies, getting them(us) used to the reality that that's all we're likely to have in thirty years.

But in order to push past the metabolic shift that happens to make foie gras, you have to use the tube (and Bux is correct that even traditional producers have always used sticks to push the food down, though most now use a motor to do the work). I don't know that you can argue a size difference from technique: Hudson Valley uses this "more traditional" approach and their duck livers get as big as if not bigger than Sonoma Foie Gras's more mechanically fed ducks.

I think I said this upthread, but the more traditional approach isn't necessarily "more humane." Injuries and unplanned fatalities are demonstrably higher (roughly double) in traditional approaches vs. modern "quick feeding" systems. The birds are held for longer, and are thus more prone to damage as they squirm (from the restraint, if not the gavage). But which looks better?


Derrick Schneider

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I watched the process at a small, high-quality producer's in France. I saw no rod being used. A couple of cranks of what looked like a food-mill with a long spout--and that was it.


abourdain

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I was just talking with Raymond Blanc (2 star Michelin, Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons), and he apparently demanded of his foie producer (10 years ago, I believe) that they measure the stress levels in the ducks. He was saying they now use much lower stress methods, that the traditional cruelty is unacceptable in the present climate, and that their foie gras tended to be in the 500g range.

I can tell you, pan seared alongside some roast duck and spring turnips with foie gras sauce, it was very tasty indeed. He mentioned that it had a lower fat content (unlike the guy who just ate it).


Edited by MobyP (log)

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Without for a minute wishing to prejudice anyone, having seen these two producers,
I wouldn't eat from a foie over half a kilo
.
Hudson Valley uses this "more traditional" approach and their duck livers get as big as if not bigger than Sonoma Foie Gras's more mechanically fed ducks.

I don't know what the size is of Sonoma foie gras is, but the Hudson Valley foie gras that I've seen has often times been much smaller than half a kilo. I'm referring to top of the line which the company's website currently states is approximately 1.5 pounds. I haven't seen their foie packaged for the trade in about a year. Maybe they've streamlined the production process to yield consistently larger pieces. Or maybe they were sending me the smaller pieces, which of course doesn't mean the quality was inferior at all.

I think I said this upthread, but the more traditional approach isn't necessarily "more humane." Injuries and unplanned fatalities are demonstrably higher (roughly double) in traditional approaches vs. modern "quick feeding" systems. The birds are held for longer, and are thus more prone to damage as they squirm (from the restraint, if not the gavage). But which looks better?

I'll go for what tastes better, the traditional method. I don't lead an entirely unexamined life, but at a certain point I zone out on thoughts about the most humanely possible ways to treat ducks/geese raised for foie gras. I know I've eaten plenty of it and I will eat it in the future without visiting the farm where the goose or duck was raised. I also wear leather shoes and pollute the air daily by driving and smoking too many cigarettes. I'd wear a fur coat if I were an Inuk.

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...

Foie gras in France is not consumed the same way as it is in the States. Most of it is had between Christmas and New Years when lot's of "everyday" folks indulge as part of traditional meals.

Whereas in America, foie gras and truffles by the way have become so strongly associated with FD that it symbolizes it for many.

Interesting. I can certainly see that there would be less preparation of foie gras at home in the U.S. at anytime of year. But is it really true that fine dining restaurants in Paris treat it as a seasonal dish? (i.e at Christmas and New Year's)


"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"

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...

Foie gras in France is not consumed the same way as it is in the States. Most of it is had between Christmas and New Years when lot's of "everyday" folks indulge as part of traditional meals.

Whereas in America, foie gras and truffles by the way have become so strongly associated with FD that it symbolizes it for many.

Interesting. I can certainly see that there would be less preparation of foie gras at home in the U.S. at anytime of year. But is it really true that fine dining restaurants in Paris treat it as a seasonal dish? (i.e at Christmas and New Year's)

Apologies, if I didn't make myself clear. I didn't mean to imply that FDR's in France view it as a seasonal ingredient.

I meant that consumption peaks during the Winter holidays. You'll also find more restaurants even in the middle range serving foie gras this time of year. Even wild ducks and geese would have fattened themselves up at this time of year. So maybe farmers don't need to use a rod during this time. During other seasons maybe they do. I've seen both.

Ruth Reichl has written in The New York Times, "the dish that no restaurant can do without...the ultimate guilty pleasure."

I can't think of a comparable French restaurant critic/food writer who would say that about restaurants in France or the French public believing this to be true. Besides we don't associate pleasure with guilt. Just what is that anyway? I have no concept of this notion "guilty pleasure." I ate it, I liked it, done.


I can be reached via email chefzadi AT gmail DOT com

Dean of Culinary Arts

Ecole de Cuisine: Culinary School Los Angeles

http://ecolecuisine.com

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