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FOIE FIGHT

We'll let Tramonto and Trotter, both Beard Award-winning chefs, settle this tiff on their own. But the fact their dispute was front-page news in Chicago underlines the gathering storm that may soon envelop both the production and serving of foie gras.

Its opponents have already proven to be politically astute. There are but a handful of foie gras producers in the U.S., the percentage of U.S. diners who have ever plunked down $15-$20 for a foie gras appetizer in a high-end restaurant is microscopically small and foie gras doesn't move through retail channels. Yet foie gras legislation has made it to the top of the agenda for many legislative bodies.

Last year the California legislature passed a bill that will ban foie gras in 2012 unless its producers can come up with more humane methods of creating their product. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the bill as soon as it hit his desk.

Elsewhere, various forms of foie gras-related legislation are working their way through legislatures in Oregon, New York, Illinois and Massachusetts. Some proposed laws would make it illegal to produce foie gras; others would make it illegal to possess it.

What's a chef or owner to do? Be careful on this issue. Trotter opted to quit serving foie gras at his namesake restaurant in Chicago three years ago, going public with his stance just recently. In Portland, OR, chef/owner Tom Hurley of Hurley's is one of several chefs there who have taken foie gras off their menus lest activists gather outside their restaurants to protest the manner in which the delicacy is produced. Hurley still serves foie gras, but just doesn't put it on the menu. Ex-fireman Hurley is a stand-up guy's stand-up guy, but when animal rights protestors show up outside your restaurant's door bearing oversized illustrations of the process--images that will kill just about any customer's appetite for foie gras, or anything else that night--it gets a chef's attention. Who needs this on a Saturday night?

Intimidation is a despicable tactic. But maybe it's best to keep a low profile while the foie gras battle rages on. Otherwise the animal rights group might single you out. We can't see their activity bringing down Wolfgang Puck's empire. But the content of web site www.nofoiegras.org or its offshoot www.wolfgangpuckcruelty.org can't be helping Puck's business. If you're a chef/owner with a single restaurant, a similar attack could really hurt.

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