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Chicago chefs up in arms over foie gras ban

Top chefs in Chicago whipped out their knives to fight a restaurant ban on the rich but controversial liver from over-fattened geese.

india Updated: Aug 29, 2006 19:58 IST

Top chefs in Chicago, known for its meat-heavy fine cooking, whipped out their knives this week to fight a restaurant ban on foie gras, the rich but controversial liver from over-fattened geese and ducks.

As some restaurateurs looked for ways to sneakily flout the prohibition by serving the famed French delicacy as a "free" garnish, even Chicago mayor Richard Daley slammed the ban as the "silliest law" the city council had ever passed.

And public health officials indicated they would not make it a priority to enforce it after it took effect Tuesday.

Restaurant representatives said the ban, the first in the nation amid a rise in animal rights activists campaigning against foie gras, would damage the city's name as a center for gourmets.

"We are becoming the laughing stock of the culinary world. This has really hurt the city's image," said Colleen McShane, president of the Illinois Restaurant Association.

"It sets a bad precedent. It's a slippery slope. What's next? Are they going to ban veal, chicken, lobster?"

The city passed the ban in April, joining California and several European countries that have begun to outlaw production of foie gras by methods considered cruel to animals.

Foie gras -- French for "fatty liver" -- is commonly produced by force-feeding ducks and geese so that their livers become engorged by up to 10 times the normal size.

Only a fraction of Chicago's 6,500 eateries actually serve foie gras, but on Tuesday the restaurant association filed a suit against the city seeking to have the ordinance thrown out.

The suit alleged that the measure was unconstitutional and would cost the city 18 million dollars in lost revenue and taxes.

"Chicago passed the ban on the sale of foie gras within the city of Chicago because of the purportedly inhumane manner in which foie gras is produced," the suit said.

"But there is no production of foie gras within the city of Chicago limits, or for that matter, within Illinois. All of the foie gras sold in Chicago restaurants is produced in Canada, France and New York."

Meanwhile a handful of restaurateurs showed their contempt for the edict by including the goose and duck liver delicacy as specials Tuesday.

Even some who didn't normally serve foie gras offered it, putting it on the city's famed deep-dish pizzas and soul food.

John Meyer's family-style soul-food joint, BJ's Market and Bakery on the city's South Side, joined the one-day protest.

"We don't normally sell foie gras, but I just wanted to send a message to the city," said Meyer. "The councilors should keep their noses out of our kitchens. They don't need to regulate something that's legal."

Other establishments vowed to keep serving up foie gras. Michael Tsonton, the chef and proprietor of Copperblue, a French/Mediterranean restaurant in downtown Chicago, said the eatery would still offer a foie gras dish, giving it away as a garnish when patrons ordered a 16 dollars hors d'oeuvre of country bread and grilled peaches in amaretto vinaigrette.

An exasperated spokesman for the city's public health department, which is charged with enforcing the ban -- violation of which could bring a fine of up to 500 dollars after a first warning -- suggested that restaurants had little reason to fear a crackdown.

"We cannot see any relationship between this ordinance and human health," said department spokesman Tim Hadac, noting that the mission of his office "is to protect public health."

For his part, Daley urged the city council to repeal the ordinance.

"They should come together and figure out what they've done and realize that it's a silly law ... It's the silliest law they've ever passed," he said Tuesday.