Aug 09, 2012|
Foie gras, made from the specially fattened liver of a duck or goose, has been rapidly growing in popularity over the past decade. You can now find it on the menus at the majority of Bangkok’s high-end restaurants, but controversy has long surrounded the French delicacy. This came to a head when the state of California, USA, banned the sale and production of foie gras on the grounds of animal welfare, effective July 1, sparking a backlash from chefs and lovers of the dish alike. A ban on shark fin soup would have been unthinkable in Bangkok five years ago. Today, at least three luxury hotel chains have voluntarily done just that. Could foie gras be next?
So far, Thailand would appear blissfully unaware of any growing global sentiment against the dish. In 2009, US$7,728,000 worth of foie gras was consumed in Thailand (according to PETA), and that demand has only increased since. Though traditionally eaten only on special occasions, Bangkokians can’t seem to get enough of the delicacy, with some swanky brunches and tasting menus even dedicated to the dish.
Foie gras translates simply to “fat liver” in French, and is known for having a buttery, silky quality that melts in your mouth when seared, though there are many different forms of the dish. Eloi De Fontenay, Chef at Paris Bangkok Restaurant, says, “From our experience, Asian people are falling in love with foie gras, especially Thai people. It’s a delight for chefs to use in the kitchen; it’s so rich in taste, and can be used raw, cooked and in terrine, and be associated with so many products.”
Reto Moser, Director of Food and Beverage at Four Seasons Hotel Bangkok, says, “Foie gras is popular for its flavor and perhaps also for a sense of prestige associated with it.” Indeed, it can be pricey, ranging from B500 to B1,100 depending on the type, its accompaniments and, of course, the restaurant. But it’s not only the taste of foie gras that is a talking point, the production of it is causing an ever-growing debate.
Foie gras is produced through gavage or force-feeding. And therein lies the controversy. The birds are separated at birth, the female hatchlings discarded as they do not produce high-quality foie gras. The males are left to grow for a few months, free to roam around the French countryside. Then the force-feeding begins and lasts for an average of two weeks. The birds are systematically force-fed corn boiled in fat via a metal tube pushed down into their stomachs, which if done with a lack of care can cause significant damage to their throats. Detractors also point to livers swelling up to ten times their normal size, impaired liver function and all sorts of distress caused to the animal’s body.
With this process illegal throughout much of Europe, France is now relied on for the majority of the world’s supply of the liver, feeding approximately 70% of global demand.
Quince’s chef, Jess Barnes, thinks restaurants can live without the fatty liver. “I think the ban on the consumption of any product in which an animal is treated and raised unethically is good. That said, this ban is considered by some to be symbolic of a class war. Either way, I think morals are the privilege of the upper classes and the entire animal should be consumed if it is to die for our survival.” Barnes also feels that more education about the production process is key to stopping its consumption. “In my eyes the people who have access to the product here are not educated about how it is produced and see it as just another dish like shark fin soup.”
Bangkok’s hotel chains and restaurants aren’t showing any signs of bowing to pressure, so for now foie gras remains resolutely on the menu. As Moser, of Four Seasons, explains, “Our guests are the most important factor in our decisions, guiding the selections we offer.” And Mr Clavel agrees, “It’s something which is famous and well-known throughout the world. To not have foie gras in a French restaurant would be a shame. It’s like a rule for a French restaurant to have foie gras.”