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As a classically trained, French gastronomic chef, you’d be forgiven for thinking that serving foie gras was in my DNA.
When I first started out as an ambitious student I must admit that I saw foie gras as a status symbol of sorts. Fast forward a few years and I was the proud owner of my own fine-dining restaurant specializing in traditional French dishes and culinary delights. Michelin-starred and award-winning, we wholeheartedly leant into our French origins, quickly becoming a leading foie gras purchaser.
At its peak Gauthier Soho was serving 20 kilos a week. I thought little of it at the time, but now? Now it makes me sick to my stomach. Ironic really, when you consider what foie gras entails.
I can’t deny that I knew a fair bit about what foie gras production involved but, like most others, I locked those uncomfortable thoughts in a box in the back of my mind. I had a booming business to run, faithful customers to feed and hard-working staff to pay; I barely had a moment in the day to stop for a coffee, let alone concern myself with the graphic details of one menu item.
I’d tricked myself into believing that it wasn’t all that bad.
Until, one day, animal activists protested outside of my restaurant. I won’t lie: at first, I was irritated, but when I eventually gave in to watching their footage I was repulsed by what I witnessed.
Foie gras and animal cruelty
Foie gras production is illegal in the UK on animal cruelty grounds, and for good reason too. Every year millions of ducks and geese are confined into filthy, tiny cages in dark, dismal sheds.
Forced to ensure the grisly process of ‘gavage’, the birds are force-fed in a process so cruel and controversial that it causes unimaginable suffering to the sensitive birds.
‘Fattened up’ using a metal feeding tube forced down their throats, they experience unbelievably extreme physical and psychological pain, and after a few agony-filled weeks their livers swell to up to ten times their natural size.
The diseased liver of a force-fed goose can expand to weigh up to a kilo. That means that my restaurant was responsible at the time for around 20 ducks and geese suffering for foie gras every single week. Exhausted, terrified, wild-eyed – those animals I’d watched struggling for their lives, they were struggling for my menu.
After many restless nights, haunted by the images I’d seen, I knew I had to do something. I began to tentatively recreate plant-based versions of the dish I’d once seen as a ‘delicacy’. Much to my surprise, it was an invigorating process! Suddenly, my creative juices were flowing like never before. Working out how to emulate the texture, appearance and depth of the product took patience, precision and… plants!
Working with the plant-based cooks from BOSH!, we created an animal-free alternative… our very own ‘faux gras’ if you will.
With bated breath, we shared our video recipe with the world – after all, the public would be the ultimate judge. In a powerful vindication, we saw the views rise higher and higher with each passing hour – hitting a staggering five million views in just two days!
Our restaurant’s customer base quickly grew as people traveled from all over the country to try out our speciality faux gras. I’d never known anything like it, the response was overwhelming. It reinforced to me that there is a clear demand for cruelty-free faux gras. People want good food, they don’t want brutality.
Our team at Gauthier Soho has been remastering classical French recipes ever since. The only difference? We simply use plants. They say you shouldn’t play with your food, but there’s nothing better than experimenting with new flavors and ingredients – it’s a challenge any chef should savor! With over 300,000 species of edible plants in the world, we’re never short of options.
I certainly don’t miss eating foie gras, nor do I feel any ‘less French’ without it… and I still love a vintage red wine from Bordeaux! Despite my initial worries, I never lost a single customer. My business did not suffer, and now the animals don’t either.
Removing foie gras from my menu didn’t restrict people’s choice, it offered new options. Equally, banning foie gras imports into the UK won’t restrict consumers, but open us up a whole new world of delicious alternatives! That’s why I’m both delighted and relieved to learn that the government is looking to ban foie gras ‘over the next few months’. As a Frenchman I am hugely proud to live in a country that is looking to make such a progressive, forward-thinking decision on behalf of animals. It’s time that we modernize and revolutionize the way that we see and treat animals.
“My business did not suffer, and now the animals don’t either”
And I’m not alone in feeling this way. According to YouGov polls commissioned by leading animal protection organisation, Animal Equality, 79 percent of Brits are in support of a foie gras ban, and I was proud to join Animal Equality’s team a few weeks ago as we handed in an incredible 225,000+ signatures to No10 Downing Street in support of their petition calling for an end to this cruel trade. There’s no doubt about it, times are changing.
Plus, if expert predictions are anything to go by, slaughter-free foie gras will be hitting our supermarket shelves in just a few years’ time, as cultivated meat becomes a revolutionary reality. Who would have ever imagined that scientists – like Parisian start-up, Gourmey – could take cells from a duck egg and turn them into a food that is both environmentally sustainable and compassionate? These are the ingredients we need to create a kinder, better future for us all. The possibilities are endless!
Au revoir, foie gras. Faux gras can take it from here!