Braised Beef Cheeks with Hudson Valley Foie Gras and Sequatchie Cove Cumberland cheese fries from The Meeting PlaceBraised Beef Cheeks with Hudson Valley Foie Gras and Sequatchie Cove Cumberland cheese fries from The Meeting Place.
Admit it: you like to be a little naughty sometimes. Whether it’s those late night visits to YouPorn.com or tequila shots off of a hairless twink’s chest on the back dance floor of Alan Gold’s, we all do things we know we probably shouldn’t but can’t seem to resist the temptation.
All too often these temptations arise from prohibition—and prohibition has roots that reach out to the things we eat and drink. Consider the story of Eve’s temptation in the Garden of Eden. The Bible’s first couple wandered around naked in the woods like it was their own personal Rainbow Gathering until The Man brought them down with a simple prohibition: “Don’t eat that fruit.” Of course they ate the fruit, so now I have door-to-door evangelists disturbing my dinner, and I can’t buy liquor on Sunday. But not all comestibles became taboo because of religious or health reasons.
On July 1 of this year, California, which likes to think of itself as America’s Garden of Eden, banned a food whose roots date back to ancient Egypt and the Jewish diaspora and whose place in the culinary pantheon can only be rivaled by truffles, uni and bacon. California banned foie gras. They didn’t ban it because it’s unhealthy or because of religious sensitivities, they banned it because some believe it is, by necessity, the result of cruel and inhumane practices.
If you’ve never had the pleasure of eating foie gras, I extend my deepest sympathies to you in this difficult time. If you consider yourself a gourmand on any level, or if you enjoy food that makes your eyes roll back in a reflexive response to rapturous flavors, you should try foie at least once. The term foie gras is French for “fatty liver,” but foie is specifically produced from fatty goose or duck livers. This may not sound very appetizing at first, especially if you’re not a fan of liver, but foie gras has about as much in common with aunt Edna’s liver and onions as Boone’s Farm Mountain Berry has with a bottle of 2004 Muga Aro.
Eating foie is a religious experience. The unctuous and smooth, custard-like mouthfeel combined with its rich, meaty flavor may cause you to speak in tongues and organize a tent revival evangelizing unwashed foie virgins, baptizing them with sprinkles of truffle oil and warm duck fat. Foie is meat butter, it’s like a cross between Wagyu beef and rich custard without the bitterness or mineraliness of liver. It is a bucket list experience that is to food as Dita von Teese is to sexy.
So what’s all the fuss about? Why would California ban this delicacy? At issue is the feeding method called gavage that produces the oversized, fatty duck livers. Gavage takes place for a two-week period just before the young bird’s slaughter and involves inserting a smooth metal tube into a bird’s throat and forcing food down its gullet. The process takes a matter of seconds, and is usually repeated a couple of times each day. Does it look bad? Yes. Is it is as bad as it looks? Definitely not.
I’ll let you do your own Google searches and come to your own conclusions about how comfortable you are with gavage and foie production. In my own research I’ve found that there are good, humane producers of foie here in America that produce a product no one should have any qualms about eating and there are some horror houses in Europe that look like ducks got together and made their own version of Saw; I would stay away from that foie.
Several Chattanooga restaurants serve humanely raised and beautifully prepared foie from one of America’s four remaining foie farms. I get a semi every time I think about the deep, rich flavors of the Braised Beef Cheeks with Hudson Valley Foie Gras and Sequatchie Cove Cumberland cheese fries from The Meeting Place. Boccaccia’s Filetto Rossini, is a filet, foie and brandy cream sauce dish that tastes like Jesus brought heaven to you on a plate. Don’t worry what people will think, try it. What happens in the dining room stays in the dining room.
There may come a time when we decide foie is unacceptable and foie prohibition may become the law of the land. If that happens there will be temptation and temptation will breed rebellion. When the thick-doored “duckeasies” spring up, I will be there nursing a foie gras torchon and handing out “If you outlaw foie, only outlaws will eat foie” bumper stickers. Let’s just hope and pray that hellish nightmare never becomes reality.
Mike McJunkin cooks better than you and eats banned food at every opportunity. Visit his Facebook page (Sushi and Biscuits) for updates and recipes.