My newly christened fiancée Taryn is a semi-professional chef. Not only is she sincerely one of the most talented and knowledgable cooks I’ve ever met — and I have to say “one of” only because I once had a lengthy conversation with Wylie Dufresne — she runs the appetizer station part-time at a terrific French bistro in Hollywood called Papilles. Within the next couple of weeks, Papilles, like many restaurants here in California, is going to be getting in a shipment of foie gras. This will happen because on Wednesday a judge overturned the state’s ban on foie gras which has been in place for the past two years, since animal rights advocates pushed to have the fatty duck or goose liver delicacy considered an unconscionable product of unnecessary cruelty by those with the authority to do something about it.
Yes, the process involved in creating foie gras sounds pretty terrible for the bird. In order to make foie gras, you force feed a goose or duck until its liver becomes enlarged, then you kill the bird and remove the liver. If you’ve never had foie gras, it’s an unctuous, luxurious dish — a French staple — and when cooked by someone who knows what he or she is doing, there’s nothing at all like it. I suppose it comes down to how you feel about what goes into bringing you the food that’s on your plate — whether you have the ability to overlook what’s undoubtedly a painful situation for the animal you’re indulging in. Hamilton Nolan over at Gawker has already made his feelings known in a piece published this morning titled, subtly, “Foie Gras Is for Assholes.” He calls foie “the Abu Ghraib of poultry dishes” and argues what he says is the modest position of not eating animals that have been tortured before they hit your table.
Well, as you probably already know, I’m an asshole. It will surprise no one to learn that Taryn and I already have a reservation at a place called Terrine over in Beverly Grove for next Monday and they’ll be serving an entire meal of foie gras. Every course will feature the dish. The day before the foie gras ban went into effect in 2012, she and I made sure to hit a local restaurant that had it on the menu just so we could indulge one last time. In other words, we’ve missed it. We’re the kind of people who did a little Snoopy dance yesterday when word of the judge’s decision on foie gras came down. I’m sure there will be no way to defend this position to those who find the food an abomination, but I simply don’t care all that much about how foie gras is made — I only care that it’s absolutely delicious. I don’t love it because I enjoy sticking it to PETA or whomever — I love it because there’s sincerely nothing else in the world like it.
There’s admittedly something tantalizing about the forbidden, but I don’t think that’s ever been the reason behind my appreciation of rarefied indulgences. I’m an experience junkie and will try almost anything, there’s little doubt about that and my sordid history bears it out, but more than that I can’t deny something that’s absolutely wonderful. Yes, that makes me selfish as hell but after 45 years I’m over giving a shit. I’ve tempered my tastes to the point where I no longer stomp all over people to get what I want, but I just can’t extend that to the food I eat. Get pissed all you want, but we’re at the top of the food chain and there are privileges that come with that — one of them is that we can eat whatever the hell we like. And I will.
If you told my fiancée and me that you knew a place where we could indulge in ortolan — one of the most exclusive meals on earth, an outlawed delicacy in which the small bird is bound, stuffed with grapes and figs then drowned in Armagnac and eaten whole, bones and all — we would be there right now. We’re (maybe literally) dying to sample the poisonous fugu fish. Dump anything at all into a Korean hot pot and it’s going our stomachs. We’ll eat not just beef and pork of every kind but any wild game you can think of. Seriously, our way of looking at food and drink echoes Anthony Bourdain when he says, “My body isn’t a temple, it’s an amusement park.” So, yeah, foie is nothing. We want to die knowing we sucked the marrow out of this place (again, literally). Food is more than just sustenance — it’s sensuality and seduction and everything in between. It’s how she and I came together, what drew me to her and how I first approached her about going out, and it’s been a staple of our relationship ever since.
I have no idea whether the foie gras ban is gone for good since there’s no doubt the people who worked to get it enacted aren’t going to sulk off into a corner and kick dirt. But while it’s available, I plan to be ordering it — a lot.
Plus, you know, it’s the suffering that makes it taste so good.
Yeah, now I’m just being a dick.
Chez Pazienza was the beating heart of The Daily Banter, sadly passing away on February 25, 2017. His voice remains ever present at the Banter, and his influence as powerful as ever.