On the House is Eater's semi-regular column that goes behind the scenes of the restaurant business, written by the owners, operators, chefs and others who make our favorite establishments tick. Today, your proprietor is Mr. David Chang of Momofuku Noodle Bar, Momofuku Ssam Bar, Momofuku Ko, and Momofuku Milk Bar.
So last Friday night, just before dinner service, a guy walked into Ko and handed us a letter and a packet of anti-foie gras propaganda. The letter said that if we continue to serve foie gras he will "encourage" his activists to "demonstrate outside our establishment" leading to "negative" publicity.
We think the anti-foie gras campaign of intimidation and misinformation is ridiculous. After reading and hearing about what these "activists" have done to other conscientious and responsible restaurateurs around the country, we feel threatened by their actions. (Check out this thorough and informative take on the situation from our friends at Incanto in California.)
See, foie gras and fancy restaurants are soft targets - no one eats foie gras regularly and few people get to eat at a restaurant like Ko, though it does get a fair amount of media attention - so instead of digging in and trying to get Smithfield or Butterball or McDonald's or some giant place that's involved in the factory farm business, that is responsible for the systemized mistreatment of millions of animals, they come after foie gras and small businesses like ours that they feel like they can hurt more easily.
Their basic argument is that foie gras farms abuse their animals, that the ducks are sick and diseased and sad and pitiable, that the few weeks of overfeeding the ducks at the end of their life - the step that fattens up the liver, turning it into foie gras - is cruel. I can't speak to what happens at all foie gras farms, and I have no doubt there are places that don't have the proper regard for the health of their birds, but me and my guys have been to Hudson Valley Foie Gras. We’ve seen every last step of the process – and we were humbled by it.
The ducks live a good life, free of cages and with plenty of area to roam. The same caretakers feed them and look after them and keep them relaxed and calm. These people care for and about the ducks – they don’t just force food down their throats. (And the ducks didn't show any visible signs that the feeding bothered them - they just waddled back off to duck life after it.) There is real thought and respect put into every step of the duck's life.
After visiting the farm, we knew that the ducks were being raised in a responsible, respectful manner and that we could serve foie gras in our restaurants with a clean conscience – and that we wanted to, to support Izzy, Michael & Rick at Hudson Valley Foie Gras. (You don't have to take my word about this; writer Sarah DiGregorio chronicled a visit to Hudson Valley Foie Gras in the Village Voice in which she came to the same conclusion.)
In the last year, I’ve made trips to area farms with dozens of Momofuku cooks so we can all get to know where our food comes from, who's handling it and how it's grown. I stress the point to new cooks all the time: an animal died to give us the meat we cook with and wasting it, mishandling it or cooking it improperly is not just bad form, but an insult to the animal that gave its life and to the people who worked hard to raise that animal righteously.
And let me assure you, we try and serve nothing but animals that are raised in a humane way. Happy pigs are tastier pigs. We know this for a fact, and we pay a premium to get beef and pork and lamb and poultry from farms that are doing right by their animals. We do our best not to put on anything on the menu that isn't responsible - that's why veal and suckling pig have been excised from our menus in the last year, because we can't figure out how to source them in what we feel is a responsible manner.
We stand behind the meat we cook with and the people who raise it. We do not support factory farming or the mistreatment of animals raised for meat. And we are deeply offended that these people think they can threaten us like this, without even considering how we run our business, how much money and time and care we've put into trying to serve delicious, responsibly-sourced food prepared by well-informed, respectful cooks. We know there are better fights for them to fight out there.
And, finally, the truth is that we've used very little foie gras at Ko or any Momofuku restaurant over the years, mainly because it's expensive and we try to keep our menus affordable. But as of today we'll be adding at least one foie gras dish to each of our menus, and we’ll work to keep the prices of the dishes low, and we'll donate any proceeds from those dishes to charity, including City Harvest and The Foodbank NYC – both of which are in dire need of money and support to help feed our city’s poorest and hungriest citizens.
dc & team momofuku