Thursday, October 27, 2011

Foie gras bust in California?

It sure looks that way. As most of you might know (in case you don't you are in the right place here), California has banned the production and sale of foie gras as of July 1st 2012. Here we go again! Remember the ban in Chicago? That did not last very long and Mayor Daley then commented that Chicago had bigger problems to tend to. They repealed the ban and moved on to more important things. As of now it does not look like repeal of the law in CA is coming anytime soon to the dismay of many Chefs there.
My humble origins go back to France in the heart of foie gras country, ie, Gascony. Foie gras in France is everywhere and has been for as long as anyone can remember. It is a delicacy but also an important part of our culinary culture and heritage. France produces 78% of the world's foie gras vs the USA 1.8%. Now you know why some of us are all for it. As a Chef, I am a bit, make that a lot, irritated by this ban nonsense in CA or anywhere else for that matter. I believe that the people who were behind that ban and lobbied for the law have an agenda of their own which bring the question: who are they to tell me what I should eat or not eat? The other side of the discussion is economics and jobs and California is doing it .......again. Chasing more jobs out of the state which is already broke. Let's talk about what it takes to produce foie gras.
The duck farmer needs land that if it does not own it, it will cost him rent.
Then there is equipment and materials along with shelter for the birds.
Then there is the staff to care for the birds 24/7.
Then there are the farmers who produce the feed and corn for the birds.
Then there is the company which produces the eggs ( males are raised for foie gras and meat, females are raised for meat only).
About two weeks old!
Then there are the truckers who transport all of the above.
Then there is the processing plan for slaugthering, cutting, packaging and final State and Federal inspections and stamps of approval (the producer pays for the inspections).
Then there is the cold storage facilities who stores the duck various products including the foie gras which the producer must rent.
Then there are the shipping companies such as FedEx and UPS who deliver the products to your door or to the Chefs directly. See the impact of this ban? and this is only a small fraction of the foie gras production in the USA so what's next?
Getting there, looks like happy ducks to me!
Moulard ducks and the foie gras they produce are close to my culinary heart. Of course I must address the controversy about the forcefeeding of the ducks to obtain foie gras. I recently visited a duck farm to find out for myself and what I saw was standards way above and beyond the farming practices typical of other types of poultries beind raised in this country. The birds are raised in well vented and cooled (or heated as the weather changes) in very spacious barns and have plenty of room to roam and grow comfortably. Once they have grown their feathers they are taken outside where they have plenty of food,water, shade and room to roam free. I was totally impressed to see how much land is used to raised the ducks. I have seen before a chicken farm where the chickens are raised in very cramped conditions and only indoors for all of their short lives. The media would have us believe that animal mistreatment is a common thing in poultry farming and they might be right in some instances. Well, not so in this duck farm. The duck farmers here showed me everything and had nothing to hide. They graciously answered all my questions and thanks to their honesty I now consider myself very knowledgeable on this topic. Of course I wanted to see the forcefeeding of the ducks for myself and was granted that too.
The process is actually pretty short, just a few seconds as the ducks are fed a premeasured portion of corn twice a day. There is no other way to produce foie gras and this process only last two weeks during which time they are housed indoors in spacious pens with plenty of water and in a cool environment.
I had the opportunity to process whole Moulards ducks raised for foie gras over the past year and can assure you all of the eight ducks that I did were in perfect health meaning, no bruises, scratches, no broken bones, etc. Now the same cannot be said for the chicken we buy in our neighbourhood food stores! Next time take a closer look!
What will it take to repeal this ridiculous ban in CA? The Chefs must join together and their guests too. As for me, sign me up for this fight.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A busy year ?

I think so and I am still talking duck so quack,quack to everybody. I have not kept up with this thing but I am here today trying to catch up. Apart from the searing heat we got in Dallas for three months, summer was pretty good overall. No matter how bad things get (still talking weather) we always get used to it and we just got to spend more time inside, worked for me just fine.
In July the American Culinary Federation was holding its National Convention here at the Gaylord and I was a presenter for 3 educational seminars. I was humbled and also very proud to teach these classes to Chefs from every corner of this country. I did two hands on seminars on Charcuterie and one seminar/demo on duck fabrication and foie gras. They were all very well received as the Charcuterie trend is on the rise with many Chefs doing ( or in some cases attempting to do) their own. The Charcuterie classes were the first to sell out and I did accept more attendees but without participation in the hands on segment which was fine as they got to understand the principles of curing and aging various types of meat and game.
The Chefs in this seminar got to taste ten different types of Charcuterie as show above. Yes it is a lot of work but the fun is huge along with the satisfaction from the results.
On the foie gras seminar 162 Chefs showed up as it was open to all; I could get used to this standing room only stuff, real easy. I was overwhelmed by the size of this professional crowd but recovered quickly (no other choice, so why worry) . I totally appreciated the level of attention given to my presentation by all the Chefs but was very surprised to find out that a lot of them were not very familiar with the topic. I went to work and did a PPT presentation on the raising of the ducks and the production of foie gras. The comments were all positive and I did not get any negatives on the process of force feeding the birds to produce the foie gras.
This a mi cuit foie gras marinated in a reduction of malbec and aromatics. The result ? YUMMMMMMMMMMM !
I had lots of help and could not have done this without the support of Junny and Guillermo Gonzales from Sonoma Artisan Foie Gras in California. Junny came in and was very excited and happy to see the support and understanding from the Chefs. It was a very unique class and I must give special thanks to Chefs Mark Schneider, John Jost, Stacy O'Neil and all the culinarians who volunteered and worked so hard to make me look good, keep me focused and on time. To all of you THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU !
After my demo I really enjoyed the Q & A session with my peers, it was great and I hung out as late as I could. My good friend and Chef Stafford DeCambra did process the second duck right next to me and followed my lead perfectly . Good Job Stafford and thank you for being there and being the best team player I know.
I cannot say how important it is in my field to attend these professional gatherings to learn new things, renew friendships and make new ones. Keeping up with trends in the food world and new techniques is absolutely critical, that is why we call it Continuing Education.
These are some of my best Chef's moments that I will always treasure. Just in case anyone still doubts my passion for duck and foie gras this pic should put any doubt to rest.
As they say "better late than never" and I am no different. So until the next post, keep on cooking .