Who Stole the Foie Gras? A Culinary Arts Nightmare

Every chef school graduate has to decide, sooner or later, whether to be a committed foodie or vegan animal activist--or someone who can walk the line between. For culinary arts types, both chefs and diners, high-end food products now carry an element of risk--and I'm not talking about e coli. Like milk-fed veal in times past, foie gras has become the poster food for protest against elite culinary practices.

Top Chefs Say "Oui" to Foie Gras

Exclusive food products represent a big-money culinary arts industry. To top culinary supplier D'Artagnan, foie gras made up 30 percent of their $45 million in food sales last year. The company's owner, Ariane Daguin, "has given the US gourmet foods market equal doses of education and pleasure when it comes to fine foods," according to renowned chef Daniel Boulud. Now, Daguin may have to fight like the musketeer from whom her company takes its name.

The Culinary Arts Buck Stops in New Jersey

It's all about the "gavage," the force-feeding of ducks and geese that fattens their livers (liver is the crucial fois gras ingredient). This tube feeding has so outraged animal activists that they've allied themselves with vegetarian New Jersey legislator Michael J. Panter to outlaw the practice. As with most arts culinary, the gavage story has two sides.

"We did not invent force feeding," Daguin says, pointing out that ducks and geese force feed themselves in preparation for migration. "This is how they are in nature."

Chef School as a Moral Proving Ground?

While student chefs won't be force-feeding any feathered victims on school grounds, they will at some time have to decide whether or not they will serve foie gras, or any other endangered food item. The more upscale the chef school, the more likely its chefs will want careers in high-end restaurants, restaurants that depend on suppliers like D'Artagnan.

If you, too, aspire to top chef status, you may one day be among those asking, "Who stole my foie gras?"