We’ve already told you about chef Ben Puchowitz‘s show-stopping dessert at the most recent Foobooz Open Stove Night at Cook. And we’ve also told you about the new “Long Live Foie Gras” tasting menu that Puchowitz and his crew at Matyson are currently serving to hordes of liver-obsessed fans who pack are packing the joint for the $55 5-course meal.
But what we haven’t yet talked about is where this sudden passion for foie gras came from–what so moved chef Puchowitz that he was inspired to throw together this steal of a menu (“One of my favorite menus I’ve ever done,” according to the man himself) and construct that dessert that has had us dreaming of liver-based desserts for nearly a week now.
The answer? It has a lot to do with a little place called California…
“I have three idols,” Puchowitz told me when I got him on the phone this morning on his way into the kitchen. Those three people that the chef looks up to? Bill Maher, Howard Stern and Anthony Bourdain. “They’re all pioneers in being able to say and do what you want.”
It was Maher that Puchowitz turned to during the whole Roundeye Noodle Bar kerfuffle a couple months ago–taking comfort in Maher’s opinion (even as he was changing the name of his proposed ramen bar to Cheu Noodle) that America has become such a super-sensitive, nitpicky place that there’s virtually nothing a man can do or say (or name his restaurant) that won’t get someone’s panties in a twist. It’s Stern and Bourdain to whom he looks when he wants examples of guys who’ve gone their own way–and been incredibly successful in doing so.
But the inspiration for his newest bit of cooking-slash-political-theater came from a different source. It was a recent article written by Mark Pastore (business partner of Chris Cosentino, chef at Incanto in San Francisco) titled “The R Spot” which dealt, among other things, with the coming foie gras ban in California. Here’s just a piece of it:
The debate over the California ban on foie gras, due to take effect on July 1, 2012, has in many respects been ideal moral kindling for the broader battle some wish to wage over what you eat; it succeeded in getting a core group of activists riled up to fight for animal rights by vilifying an animal product that 98% of Americans would never eat anyway, therefore making it politically expendable. The values system underlying the cause harnesses a brand of philosophical utilitarianism that ascribes rights (but no accompanying responsibilities) to any non-human being based solely on its degree of sentience, without regard to species. While the notion that the U.S. Constitution provides a legal framework for abolishing this so-called “speciesism” is not shared by everyone, the philosophy behind it is important to understanding the intellectual anchor for many of the leading voices within the animal rights movement.
“That hit me hard,” Puchowitz said. “I read that article and I immediately thought, I gotta do a foie gras menu.”
Which is exactly what he did–partly because he loves foie gras and partly as a political statement, a way to show his solidarity with those put-upon California chefs who, should they choose to ignore the ban, are going to be breaking the law just by cooking the way they want to cook, with the ingredients that they love best.
“It’s crazy,” Puchowitz told me. “Whenever I go out to a restaurant, I order foie gras. One of my favorite flavor combinations is something livery and something sweet–chicken liver with some kind of jam, foie gras with fruit. I love foie gras. And using it is almost cheating.”
Cheating because it makes everything it touches taste better (at least to those who love it as much as Puchowitz does), because it can elevate everything around it. Cheating because it is so rich and so delicious and so fatty that there is nothing else in a chef’s culinary arsenal that can even touch it.
Puchowitz also rolled out the menu because he wanted to inform people, to get them thinking, to remind them that it wasn’t too long ago (2007-2008) that Philadelphia attempted the same kind of ban that California just passed. And while it failed here (and failed miserably), that doesn’t make the attempt any less ridiculous or wrong.
“I can’t write,” Puchowitz explained. “I can’t really talk in public. My food is my voice. Because the only thing I have to make people hear me is by cooking food.”
And if you hurry, you can still taste what Puchowitz has to say. He’ll be serving his Long Live Foie Gras tasting menu at Matyson through Thursday.
Matyson foie gras tasting menu [matyson.com]
The R Spot [sfgate.com]