Fois Gras Ban Looms Over Chicago

Chicago diners have one final week to feast on foie gras before the city becomes the first in the nation to ban the delicacy. Until then, foodies seem to be eating more of the dish made of duck or goose liver than ever.

"My foie gras sales have gone through the roof," said Rick Tramonto, owner and chef of the four-star restaurant Tru.

"Our sales have tripled since the ban was announced," said Kara Sherman, general manager of the restaurant MK. "Right now, 30 to 40 percent of our clientele are ordering it."

This upscale eatery is offering an $82 tasting menu called "Foie Gras, Farewell to Our Good Friend." The first course is a chilled slab of foie gras followed by seared foie gras with Maine sea scallops followed by lamb with a foie gras and wine sauce. The last-chance demand is so great, Sherman said, "It's hard for us to keep up right now."

Foie gras -- French for "fat liver" -- is made from the fattened livers of geese or ducks. Therein lies the problem. Many believe the process of force-feeding the animals to purposely enlarge their livers is cruel.

In April members of the Chicago City Council sided with animal rights groups and enacted the ban, set to take effect on August 22. Production of foie gras is already banned in more than a dozen countries, mostly in Europe.

At least one famous Chicago chef has already instituted his own ban. Charlie Trotter took foie gras off the menu at his eponymous restaurant after seeing how the delicacy was produced.

But many of Trotter's colleagues worry this new law is the first step on a slippery slope.

"The laundry list is now wide open," says Tramonto. "Lobster, veal, where does it end? Who draws the line in the sand and dictates what you can and can't eat?"

Chef Didier Durand of Cyrano's Bistrot and Wine Bar plans to serve the banned delicacy anyway, claiming the law prohibits restaurants from selling foie gras but not from giving it away. "I will serve foie gras with some seasoned potatoes, some brioche and some greens. I will charge $15 dollars for the potatoes, the greens and the brioche." The foie gras, he says, is free.

Durand helped start a group called Chicago Chefs for Choice, which has raised money to fight the foie gras ban in court. They plan to file a legal challenge later this week.

Rick Tramonto said he plans to abide by the law, but that means eliminating some of Tru's signature dishes.

"It's like taking away the color blue from a painter," he said. "You learn to work without it, but you still miss blue."

The city's ban could be a boon for Chicago's suburbs. That's where Tramonto is opening two of his newest restaurants this fall. He said foie gras will be on the menu.

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