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Chicago Chefs Are Honked Off About the Foie Gras Ban

Last month I had a great meal with friends at MK restaurant in Chicago. Usually, when I'm dining with compadres we'll just order a bunch of stuff and pass it all around. This time, however, I was breaking bread with a vegan and a vegetarian. Understandably, they would not select many of the things I choose to eat.

On more than a few occasions I've seen diners in this situation get annoyed. Surprisingly, or maybe not, it's the meat-eaters who are most critical of their companions' dining habits. I have little patience for anyone who tries to impose their eating philosophies on others, particularly when a menu is in hand.

On the night in question, there were no worries. Todd Stein, MK's executive chef and a RESTAURANT HOSPITALITY Rising Star, came out to the table to greet us. After discussing dietary restrictions and such, Stein patiently explained how many of his dishes could be amended to please everyone. Stein, like you, I'm sure, understands that his job is to please all his customers. Period. And then he sent out stuff.

For me, he prepared an appetizer featuring foie gras, noting that MK and every other Chicago restaurant will no longer be allowed to serve the specialty come July. Chicago City Council passed a law banning the product on the grounds that the process of fattening ducks and geese is cruel.

I don't know if its decision is based on truth, though I suspect it is. Still, I have issues with the ban. My biggest is that a city council issued the edict. The federal government has all sorts of agencies in place, including the Food and Drug Administration, to oversee and regulate our food supply.The folks in the agencies are trained experts with focus, while most city councils consist of generalists who once did or still may sell insurance or cars by day. If the FDA has not seen fit to ban foie gras, why is Chicago City Council dictating what its citizens can eat?

As you might expect, many Chicago chefs are not happy about the ban. "This latest move by the city of Chicago belittles diners by telling them they're not intelligent enough to make their own decisions," said Michael Garbin, president of the Chicago chapter of the America Culinary Federation.

Though Chicago is the first city in the country to ban foie gras, Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill two years ago that will end its sale in California by 2012. Meanwhile, activists are pushing to get similar laws approved in other major cities.

So, what's next? I'd hate to show up at MK next year and have Stein explain that he's sending lobster out to the table because a ban on crustaceans will begin in Chicago next month. I do know I won't be eating foie gras because he or anyone else serving it will be fined up to $500 for each offense, provided that someone in the restaurant rats him out.

Yeah, it's one of those laws whose enforcement is incumbent upon someone turning stool pigeon. Hey, is pigeon banned in Chicago? I don't know, but I probably won't be showing up at MK with my vegetarian and vegan buddies. I saw the way they were looking at me eating that foie gras.

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