California's two-and-a-half-year-old ban on the delicious fatty liver known as foie gras has come to a sudden end, as Eater SF is reporting. Napa chef Ken Frank, who along with a few other chefs had been trying to get the courts to recognize the infringement on interstate commerce that the ban represented, is declaring victory after a federal judge today ruled that the importing of of foie gras from out-of-state is perfectly legal. Frank plans to put the stuff back on his menu at La Toque tonight.
The Chronicle is confirming the news, likely also via a celebratory email from Frank, but details about the decision have not yet been released. As of October the U.S. Supreme Court had refused to hear an appeal of a federal judge's 2013 decision upholding the ban. In that case, the same argument about interstate commerce had been made. We'll update you as more details become clear.
California chefs who love the stuff, like LA's Ludo Lefebvre and SF's David Bazirgan (Dirty Habit), will be wasting no time serving it again. [Update: Here's where to find it tonight in SF.]
Even as the delicacy is losing favor in France, foie gras has gained a kind of underground cult status on the West Coast as a result of the ban, with chefs occasionally (and as recently as this week in SF) slyly adding some surprise foie to a dish as a "gift," therefore skirting the ban. The law, which passed in 2004 but did not take effect until July 2012, was effective in putting Sonoma's only foie operation, Sonoma Artisan Foie Gras, out of commission. However foie gras continues to be produced by New York-based LaBelle Farms and Hudson Valley Foie Gras.
Animal rights activists will no doubt to continue to battle this one out, but as many important food folks including Michael Pollan have pointed out, the factory farms in our country that create disgusting and inhumane conditions for millions of animals every day are a far more important target than the country's tiny foie gras producers and some have also argued that ducks and geese, which don't have the same esophaguses or gag reflexes that we have, don't especially mind being force-fed.
So far there's only been one successful operation, in Spain, in which geese on a farm have been conditioned to believe they are wild, and therefore naturally overeat and fatten their own livers in preparation for migration, producing the only "humane" foie gras product. New York chef Dan Barber attempted to replicate this in the U.S., as he discussed in this TED Talk, but was unsuccessful.
From a personal standpoint, I like the more funky and flavorful pâté that comes from regular duck liver, or even chicken liver. And while I always appreciated the delicate, melty qualities of ultra-rich foie in great moderation, all moderation went out the window when the ban was looming back in 2012 (and I was writing for the now defunct Grub Street San Francisco), and chefs all over the Bay Area were doing ridiculously decadent all-foie tasting menus. See some examples of the pre-ban insanity here.
Expect Burger Bar's Rossini Burger, and Craftsman & Wolves' infamous Devil Inside muffin, to return tout de suite.
Update: Here is the full ruling from Judge Stephen Wilson, which states in part that "California cannot regulate foie gras products’ ingredients by creatively phrasing its law in terms of the manner in which those ingredients were produced." He ruled that there is, indeed, financial injury to the out-of-state producers of foie gras who lost all their California business. And he also invokes a 2002 ruling by the 9th Circuit (National Audubon Society, Inc. v. Davis) that allowed trappers to use certain banned traps and poisons because they were being done unjust economic harm by the ban.