Chicago foie gras update: “I’ll have the special lobster”

Did you think the city famed for Al Capone and the Prohibition speakeasies would roll over for an even sillier nanny-statism?

When the letter came from City Hall threatening punishment if he continued to serve foie gras at his North Side restaurant, Doug Sohn framed the warning and set it beside his cash register.

And he kept serving the fattened duck liver without a care. …

The city has sent warning letters to nine restaurants believed to have served foie gras but issued no citations, Chicago Department of Public Health spokesman Tim Hadac said. Letters are sent after a citizen complaint and are followed by a visit after a second complaint. Visits that turn up evidence of the banished dish can result in fines from $250 to $500.

But Mayor Richard Daley is no fan of the ban–just this week, he called it “the silliest law” the City Council has ever passed.

Perhaps that helps explain why the Health Department is in no rush to boost their compliance checks.

“In a world of very limited public health resources we’re being asked to drop some things so we can enforce a law like this,” Hadac said. “With HIV/AIDS, cancer, West Nile virus and some of the other things we deal with, foie gras is our lowest priority.” …

Some owners have tiptoed around the ban by serving the dish under alternate or code names (“I’ll have the special lobster” will supposedly score foie gras at one restaurant), but renegades say they’ll do what they must to fight City Hall. …

At first, [restauranteur David Richards] said, restaurant owners worried their access to foie gras would be limited, and they crafted plots to keep their supply flowing–like getting it mailed to a suburban address for weekly covert pickups. Such cunning turned out not to be necessary, he said. Richards still gets foie gras from the same distributor he always did, and no one seems to care that it is still on his menu.

“We look at it as a choice,” he said. “We live in a free-market society and if people are truly offended they won’t buy it. If they don’t buy it, I won’t buy it.”

Instead, he said, his foie gras sales have climbed, making him even less inclined to heed the law. …

Many of those most vocally opposed to the ban have coolly stepped away from the debate by ending their foie gras sales or at least coming up with names clever enough to obscure the issue. Available on the menu at Copperblue, for instance, is “`It Isn’t Foie Gras any Moore’ Duck Liver Terrine”–a testy nod to the alderman who sponsored the foie gras ban.

Though the $16 cost seems closer to the price of foie gras than simple duck liver, Copperblue chef and owner Michael Tsonton would not say whether he had merely renamed the illicit dish. In September, when still serving foie gras, he got a warning letter that he said he hung in his kitchen.

(Josh Noel, “Let ’em eat foie gras, they declare”, Chicago Tribune, Dec. 22 (via Noonan, who says he was thinking of opening a restaurant called “Foie Gras Fried In Trans Fat”)). The Tribune story lists the nine restaurants that have gotten warning letters, and I can personally vouch for one of my favorites, Bin 36, where a date and I had a fine meal during a January 2005 blizzard.


  • Update: Paul Noonan’s lawyers made him change the title to “Fois Gras Fried in Trans Fat, Which Will Make You Fat; You’re On Notice”

  • Bad laws make us all law-breakers.

  • Reminds me of a quote from the movie Saving Grace

    I’m glad to see she’s keeping up the village tradition of total contempt for the law.