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In nearly every cuisine, there is a delicacy chef's love to use when possible. For French fare, that has to be foie gras (aka liver of a duck or goose). To achieve the rich taste and texture, the animals are often force-fed. It's this practice that some consider cruel and why individual states are banning the dish.
In 2006, Chicago was the first major U.S. city to prohibit sales of foie gras–although the ruling was overturned just two years later. After some back and forth, California officially banned it in 2017, and this past fall, New York City passed legislation to make the sale of foie gras illegal beginning in 2022.
Today, animal activists are on a mission to ban it across the country. This is obviously posing a challenge for U.S.-French chefs around the country. But many are now using it to come up with creative ways to showcase the foie texture and flavor, but without the foie.
We chatted with several chefs about how they're thinking outside of the box in the kitchen. Here's what they had to say.
Dave Beran (pasjoli in Santa Monica)
"We're battling the curse of no foie gras here in L.A. So this chicken liver infused with Madeira, butter, cream, port, and shallots prepared in the style of a traditional goose liver torchon is our own take."
Chef Christopher Engel (Aureole in New York)
"I've already been experimenting! My plan is to use chicken or calf liver. I found that both can be prepared in similar ways to foie gras and be just as gratifying."
Chef/Owner Anthony Strong (PRAIRIE in San Francisco)
"I personally love foie gras, and duck livers are the perfect happy medium between foie and chicken livers. I grew up in the Midwest and would often go duck hunting, which we'd always eat with applesauce, and the cacao pulp reminded me of this classic pairing. Standard duck livers have been long outshined by foie."
Chef/Owner David Nayfeld (Che Fico in San Francisco)
"Using non-garage enlarged duck liver is common in a lot of parts of the world. It is a more seasonal item and also smaller in size than foie gras. It has an excellent flavor and is self-induced by the duck or goose. We enjoy using free-range vitalone (slightly older calf) liver as well. It's not as metallic in flavor as a mature cow's liver. We also blend it with butter to soften the flavor and enhance the nuance."
Chef Alain Allegretti, an NYC-based French chef
Allegretti, while working on a new concept, came up with the following as a special request of a vegetarian option of foie, which he called 'faux gras.' While it cannot be compared to real foie gras, the consistency and look are that of foie gras. He combined cooked chickpeas, lentils, soaked cashews, sautéed button mushrooms with shallots then adds soy sauce, cognac, five-bay pepper. This is made into a loaf, then sliced, served with spiced bread or any crackers or bread.
Chef Kristin Butterworth (Lautrec in Pennsylvania)
"We have been able to leverage our strong relationships with our amazing local farms in the foothills of the Allegheny Mountains around us, to showcase their finest ingredients. Some of my favorite substitutions for foie gras include chicken, duck, and turkey livers from nearby Footprints Farm, which we use to create incredibly rich, creamy patés and terrines in-house. Incorporating these products in place of foie gras also allows us to utilize the entire animal with minimal waste, and helps us focus on our approach to sustainable cooking."
Chef Steve Benjamin (Jean-Georges Beverly Hills)
"It is difficult to answer that question! For me, Foie Gras is difficult to substitute. The only exception is when we make "pate" or "pate en croute," I switch the Foie Gras to Chicken Liver. Chicken Liver can be used as an old school technique to create terrine or "mousse." It is delicate and can be excellent if it is well prepared with the proper seasoning."
Chef Johan Denizot (Belmond El Encanto in Santa Barbara)
"Since the ban of foie gras in California, I have made a duck liver mousse for an appetizer, still utilizing the duck liver without harmful actions to the duck being fattened. The Duck liver mousse is cooked with a circulator in a jar at 68 degrees to keep a nice pink color. The same process as the foie gras, I used some liquors, cognac and port wine with lots of clarified butter so you'll get that creamy, buttery texture that you expect from liver mousse."
Chef Eric Klein (Wolfgang Puck Catering)
"A lot of people ask for foie gras because of the flavor and the texture. What I do is that I create a "Faux Foie Grass" mousse using chicken liver and adding butter and duck fat to create a similar consistency and texture. I've also done a Tournedos Rossini and will use other bird liver instead of foie gras to for a similar texture. We always want to respect the animal and find a different way to cook dishes."
Chef Timothy Hollingsworth (Otium in Los Angeles)
"With the foie gras ban taking place, we use a lot of chicken liver mousse to recreate the feel and taste of foie gras. At times, we serve the chicken liver mousse with our housemade naan and truffle butter, or if we're going for more of a distinct foie look, we would take the chicken liver mousse and set it in synthetic casings shaped like lobes and cook the mousse in that. When removed from the casing and sliced, the chicken liver mousse really resembles foie gras, and we can slice and sear it to serve with maple jus, wood oven-roasted vegetables, and petite lettuces from our garden upstairs."
Chef Gilles Epié (Montage Beverly Hills)
Epié cooks up a creative mixture of free-range chicken liver, port wine, beef jus, and a splash of cream. After blending that all together, he cooks and froths it over the stove before pouring it over his dish. This "foie like" mixture is best paired with a beef fillet topped with truffles.