It was 20-something years ago at a Ritz Carlton when Lark chef and owner John Sundstrom, then fresh out of culinary school, had his first-ever taste of foie gras, that mouthwateringly fatty goose/duck liver delight hated by animal rights activists, hailed by gastrophiles and chefs, and banned in California as of July 1.
"Up to that point," says Sundstrom, "I’d never had anything so amazing, rich, and special in my life."
These days, Sundstrom’s restaurant sources foie from Pleasant Valley Farm in Puyallup. "I know and speak to the farmer there," he says, "and I know the duck’s welfare is always the highest priority."
Sundstrom, like many chefs, is pro foie.
"I think arguments portraying cruelty are overexaggerated," he says. "Bad examples of raising animals for food can be found across the board; those who raise or slaughter irresponsibly should be called out."
Picture a big-bucks cattle yard. Conjure a corporate chicken coop.
"I feel confident that artisan brand foie producers like Sonoma (and Pleasant Valley), which I bought for years, are good operators."
Aside from this piece in the New Yorker, California’s Sonoma-Artisan Foie Gras Farm, the often-lauded top-in-the-nation foie farm, was surprisingly silent in the days leading up to July 1, when the state’s newly enacted ban made the business illegal. The ban comes into effect after a California statute was enacted in 2004 prohibiting the "force feeding of a bird for the purpose of enlarging the bird’s liver beyond normal size."
Some California chefs will play by the rules, while others—like those famously stubborn Chicago chefs during that city’s short-lived foie gras ban enacted in 2006—will go the duckeasy route, serving pricey sides of turtle soup and wink-wink orders of special lobster.
"I would follow the law," says Sundstrom. "It wouldn’t be the end of the world, but it would be a shame."
Although outlaw dining may be, in a food-geek kind of way, a bit of a thrill, Seattle diners have nothing holding them back—aside from maybe the faint whisper of guilt—from indulging in the buttery and fulsome foie gras.
"Like any meat," says Sundstrom, "you don’t need much foie gras, and I feel like eating less meat (especially cheap, mass produced meat) on the whole (as a nation) is a step that would do more for animal welfare than banning foie gras."
Lark is currently serving a seared foie gras, with ripe and pickled Billy’s strawberries and crispy chicken skin. Also slated for this summer: as a foie gras terrine with spiced red wine cherries or salt-roasted peach.