Wolfgang Puck, the star chef whose Beverly Hills restaurant Spago is the flagship of his worldwide restaurant empire, announced yesterday that he will implement a "humane farm-animal treatment program" in each of his many dining outlets worldwide. Among the nine points of action that Puck developed in partnership with the Humane Society of the United States, one declares his intent to "eliminate foie gras from [all Wolfgang Puck] menus," adding, "Force-feeding swells ducks' livers up to 10 times their normal size."
Puck has, for several years, been one of four chefs to demonstrate his culinary skill and discuss food-and-wine pairings at the annual Wine Spectator Wine Experience. Cooking and serving samples of dishes featuring foie gras had become Puck's unofficial signature at the events. In 2006, the Austrian chef even took some not-so-subtle jabs at fellow chef Charlie Trotter, who removed foie gras from the menu of his eponymous Chicago restaurant several years ago, much to the consternation of some members of the restaurant community. Despite this, Puck says of his new attitude toward foie gras, "To me, it's not an abrupt turn-around. It was part of the mission statement of our companies … I still hope that something positive comes out of this where we'll be able to feed ducks in a very humane way and still get a decent liver."
As for Trotter, he supports his colleague, saying, "I think it's great. Once again the chefs and restaurateurs have to take the lead on what is the right thing to do, and it's not always popular, but Wolfgang's never shied away from doing the right thing."
The Humane Society, Farm Sanctuary and other animal-rights groups have long targeted high-profile fine-dining chefs like Puck in their campaign to remove foie gras and other animal products from the restaurant table. As part of its effort, Farm Sanctuary recently created a website entitled "Wolfgang Puck Cruelty" that encouraged viewers to boycott the chef's businesses because of his use of foie gras. After Puck's announcement, the group changed the website's title to "Wolfgang Puck Victory." However, Puck insists, "The Farm Sanctuary campaign had nothing to do with our decision to use only humanely treated animals and organic vegetables in our restaurants."
Of course, not everyone is happy about Puck's decision to ban foie gras from his restaurants. Says Ariane Daguin, owner of specialty foods purveyor D'Artagnan, from which many chefs in the United States purchase their foie gras and other delicacies, "We at D'Artagnan are obviously disappointed by Wolfgang's decision. Foie gras farming is just the type of small-scale, sustainable, traditional, humane agriculture that he claims he is working to promote … Scientific study after scientific study has proven that foie gras production methods are humane. Unfortunately, Mr. Puck seems to have ignored the expertise of veterinarians and listened instead to vegetarians."
--Additional reporting by Robert Taylor.
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