Food Politics

Some CA Chefs Lament as Both Shark Fin and Foie Gras Get Set to Be Banned

Chefs haven't been defending the shark fin thing much, but banning foie gras? Oh, hells no.
Chefs haven't been defending the shark fin thing much, but banning foie gras? Oh, hells no. Photo: iStock Photo

Yesterday the California state legislature voted 25 to 9 to ban the sale, trade, or possession of shark fins, following on debate throughout this year between animal-rights advocates and members of the Asian community who think the measure unfairly singles out their culture — shark fin having long been considered a delicacy and status symbol in Chinese cuisine especially. There has been more outcry from the Chinese-American community at large than there has been from members of the food world, with chefs like Charles Phan insisting that the practice of killing sharks for their fins and tossing them back in the water to die is unsustainable and cruel, and that Asian chefs can live without the stuff. Not so with a similar ban, set to take affect in July 2012, which will outlaw foie gras on menus in California. That has a lot of chefs really pissed off and vowing to fight, and we wonder what they’re going to do when the criminalized delicacy is a European one.

S.F. chef Gary Danko tells Bloomberg that he’ll comply with the ban if he must, but that he sells at least 40 dishes of seared foie gras a night — and “double that” when a regular band of protesters stands outside his restaurant. French chefs Laurent Quenioux (visiting chef at L.A.’s Starry Kitchen) and Roland Passot (S.F.’s La Folie) are vowing to fight the ban, with Quenioux going so far as to say, “When the ban comes in, we’re going to serve it every day. They can send me the foie gras police.” They may not arrest him, but they might fine the restaurant $1,000 a day after the law takes affect.

As for the shark fin ban — which some say deals with the same sort of animal cruelty as the foie gras thing, and others insisting that ducks don’t really mind the force-feeding so much — it still needs the signature of Governor Brown. Legislators are hoping to kill the shark fin trade in California, which is said to be the largest outside of Asia, and helping to supply the stuff to restaurants around the U.S.

But while high-end chefs like Corey Lee at S.F.’s Benu are happy to come up with faux alternatives to shark fin, nobody’s come close to replacing foie in the culinary firmament. (There still may be hope for public outcry in favor of foie: In Chicago, a citywide ban on the stuff in 2006 was later lifted by Mayor Daley in 2008.) In fact, we fully expect it to become a whispered “secret” menu item at restaurants all over the Bay Area, and the centerpiece of speakeasy-like pop-ups where the location has to be kept under wraps, lest there be a raid.

Calif. lawmakers pass bill banning shark-fin trade [AP/SFGate]
Foie Gras Lovers in California Will Soon Become Victim to Rights of Ducks [Bloomberg]
Earlier: Kauffman Tastes Shark’s Fin Soup, Figures Out What the Big Deal Is
Shark Fin Ban Angers Asian Community

Some CA Chefs Lament as Both Shark Fin and Foie Gras Get Set to Be Banned