The blackboard menu at Joe Beef restaurant in Montreal was written almost entirely in French. But our most pressing question for our waitress was about one of the few (partially) English language items listed.
“What on earth is a foie gras Double Down?” we wondered.
She laughed. “It’s like the Double Down at KFC. We take two lobes of deep-fried foie gras and sandwich it between melted cheddar cheese, bacon, maple syrup and sriracha mayonnaise. It’s really intense.”
We passed, but the young tourists from New York at the next table couldn’t resist. “Oh my God! Oh my God!” they muttered between mouthfuls.
Things are looking a little different on the other side of this great continent. Earlier this month California enacted a ban that made it illegal to raise, sell or serve foie gras, made by force-feeding ducks and geese through a tube to enlarge their livers. The procedure, called by its French name, gavage, is considered cruel by California lawmakers, animal-rights activists and a good percentage of the population.
While there are already reports circulating that the ban will not be strictly enforced and a few chefs are publicly flouting it — risking a $1,000-a-plate fine — the dining culture in California will surely change.
Foie gras is no longer an obscure delicacy for Francophiles and the very rich. It is the obsession of a whole new generation of gourmets.
The unctuous texture and lingering mild flavor of foie gras — without any of the bitterness typical of liver — come as a surprise to first-time diners. These qualities also serve well in bridging sweet and savory flavors better than just about any other food.
And so a whole new school of foie-gras cookery has developed in recent years.
With a wink, young chefs like to put an ironic spin on childhood favorites by adding foie gras. Richard Blais was out of the gate quickly on this, with his foie gras milkshake and foie gras-topped burgers at Flip Burger Boutique. Pastry chef Chrysta Poulos, now at Woodfire Grill, made foie gras ice cream to serve with doughnuts when she was at 4th & Swift. The merry band at Holeman & Finch Public House have shoehorned foie gras into any number of dishes, including Oreo-like sandwich cookies they called “Foiereos.”
For many young food lovers, eating foie (one word now suffices) serves as a big step in the development of their palates. When I was in New York recently, my nephew took me to a really fun hipster-bait restaurant in Brooklyn called Do or Dine.
“You’ve got to get the foie gras jelly doughnut,” he told me in no uncertain terms. “If you’ve never had it, you have to try it.”
What a change from 20 years ago, when foie gras was mentioned in the same breath as caviar and truffles and was the sole province of a certain kind of upscale restaurant.
You still see a lot of that in foie-happy Montreal, where the French fondness for this food runs strong. But you also see it applied with some irony to more modern fare. Across town from Joe Beef, the restaurant Au Pied de Cochon famously serves foie gras on its poutine — the Québécois gut bomb plate of french fries with gravy and cheese curds.
Young Californians, just coming of foodie age, aren’t going to have this easy-to-love entry into the world of exciting, creative cuisine. Then again, they won’t have the worrying concern about what those ducks and geese actually feel as they get tubes stuck down their throats and then live with enormous, diseased livers. I guess it’s a trade-off.
- by John Kessler for the Food & More blog