Fighting the law with free foie gras

Chez TJ chef believes loophole in new legislation puts restaurant in clear

Animal rights activists are up in arms over a local chef's decision to continue serving foie gras despite a new state law banning its production and sale.

They can quack all they want about it, as far as officials at Chez TJ are concerned. "We're not doing anything wrong," said an unapologetic Joey Elenterio, executive chef at Mountain View's only Michelin-rated restaurant.

Philosophically speaking, Elenterio said he believes the "bird feeding law," as it is sometimes called, is a governmental overreach. The law, which went into effect July 1, bans both the production and sale of the fattened duck or goose liver dish in California.

Beyond Elenterio's personal views on the matter, he said he is certain that he found an entirely above-board way around the legislation, which he called "watered down" and "vague."

The Cupertino-born chef reasons that as long as he is giving the the traditional French delicacy away, "for free," the restaurant is in the clear.

The language of the law states "a person may not force-feed a bird for the purpose of enlarging the bird's liver beyond normal size, or hire another person to do so" and that "a product may not be sold in California if it is the result of force-feeding."

No one at Chez TJ is force-feeding any ducks or geese, and according to the restaurant's general manager, Jessamine McLellan, foie gras is not on the menu and is only given to customers when the chef sees fit.

"We're not breaking the law," Elenterio said.

But Yen Dang, supervising deputy district attorney for Santa Clara County isn't so sure. "I don't necessarily think they've found a loophole," Dang said. "Right now, we can't come to conclusions. We have to look into the allegations and that's what we're doing."

It is all very early in the process, Dang said. The DA's office was made aware Chez TJ was continuing to serve foie gras about a week after the law went into effect. The Mountain View police received the initial complaint, but the department quickly turned the case over to the county without conducting any investigation.

Dang said investigators will be primarily concerned with two questions: "First, has it been sold, and secondly, is it the result of force-feeding a bird?"

For Alfredo Kuba, a Mountain View resident and animal rights advocate, when it comes to the second question, the answer is quite clear: the only way to make foie gras, he said, is through force-feeding -- a process he described as "horrendous."

Kuba, who runs the Defend Animals Coalition out of his Mountain View home, said producers of foie gras stick a tube down the throat of a duck or goose, funneling food in until the bird's stomach is filled to the brim. This process is repeated day in and day out, Kuba continued, until the animal's liver grows to twice or three times its natural size.

"There's no humane way to make that product," Kuba said, emphatically. That's why state legislators passed the bird feeding law, he continued, to put an end to the "inherently cruel" practice.

Elenterio is incredulous when he hears arguments such as Kuba's. "I can't speak duck," he said. "Nobody can."

He said that animal rights activists are attempting to project a human experience and anatomy onto an animal with an utterly different anatomy. "These are water fowl," he continued. "They naturally undergo the process of overfeeding themselves to migrate in the winter."

Elenterio claims that the same technique employed by foie gras producers is also used to get food into the bellies of birds rescued from oil spills. "I don't see how the same process that they use to save ducks' lives can be used to torture them," he said. "I'm an animal lover, and if I truly thought the ducks were being tortured, I wouldn't serve it."

Elenterio said he believes foie gras is simply a wedge issue, used by vegetarians and vegans to foist their morals upon those who eat meat.

Kuba, a vegan, rejects this assertion, flipping it around on Elenterio. "He has no feelings toward other feeling creatures," Kuba said. "That is a problem. He is imposing his will and views on animals that cannot defend themselves."

The animal rights activist also took issue with Elenterio defending foie gras on the grounds that migratory birds naturally overeat. In Kuba's view, an animal gorging itself to prepare for a long, harsh winter is not comparable to a human force feeding an animal for slaughter. "That is something they do themselves; they know when to start and when to stop. These animals (raised for foie gras) suffer tremendously."

Kuba went on to say that ultimately his opinion doesn't matter, because as far as he can tell, Elenterio and Chez TJ are breaking the law. "The real question is, what are the authorities going to do?"

It is a question that will likely take some time to answer, according to Dang. In the meantime, Elentario does not plan to stop serving foie gras to his customers -- on the house, of course.


Posted by USA, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jul 19, 2012 at 12:22 pm

If you give it away only to paying customers, it is not really free.

Posted by USA, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jul 19, 2012 at 12:27 pm

There are plenty of laws that I disagree with, but I follow them. That is the way democracy works. You cannot just chose what suites you best. This is not the United State of Me.

Chez TJ, the Day Workers Center, and Wall Street firms should not above the law.

Posted by Steve, a resident of Shoreline West
on Jul 19, 2012 at 12:54 pm

Big deal, let them do it.

btw - isn't it about time to approve the five-story office building next door?

Posted by Ron, a resident of Waverly Park
on Jul 19, 2012 at 2:14 pm

@Steve: The building WAS approved, and Chez TJ is cool with it at this point.

Posted by Ron, a resident of Waverly Park
on Jul 19, 2012 at 2:23 pm

Sorry, but it is still true that no one REALLY knows if it it torture or not. Kuba is also totally failing with his argument against animals gorging themselves not being equivalent to what happens in foie gras production.

Careful what you argue, as you are on a slippery slope that actually defeats your argument. Why? Because you are saying that animals regulate their gorging on their own in the wild. Well you know what? Visit a foie gras farm in France. The birds RUN OVER AND LINE UP to be be force fed. They are fine apparently with the feeding AND the method. Right or wrong, if you are going to use animal behavior in your argument, it can be shown that birds are NOT being tortured since that, given an option, they gather instead of fleeing.

Posted by i cook at home, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jul 19, 2012 at 2:29 pm

easy solution - the foie gras is free, the cracker it's served on is $20
it's not that difficult

Posted by Really?, a resident of Cuesta Park
on Jul 19, 2012 at 2:30 pm

Force-feeding animals is torture. Can't those who eat tortured animals find something better to eat? It is bad enough to kill them, but to torture them first is criminal. Shame on you! There is nothing I want to eat that bad.

I say boycott Chez TJ.

Posted by Darin, a resident of another community
on Jul 19, 2012 at 2:42 pm

Re: "If you give it away only to paying customers, it is not really free."

Maybe. Maybe not. Sometimes at restaurants, the chef or server or manager gave us something that we did not order or pay for. It wasn't included in the meal we ordered either. They just gave it to us.

Yes, we were paying customers. But the appetizer (or dessert, or beverage, or whatever) that we were given was still free.

Posted by Ron, a resident of Waverly Park
on Jul 19, 2012 at 2:42 pm

@Really?: I have no problem with deciding not to eat meat because you don't want to kill animals. But if you ARE going to eat meat, your contention that it is torture is your opinion. If the animals keep waddling up to have the tubes inserted and get fed, and do so day after day, which they do when given the chance, is this torture? There is a lot of false information out there by groups who do not care at all about the truth, but just about promoting their views.

Posted by Ron, a resident of Waverly Park
on Jul 19, 2012 at 2:45 pm

This is all a short term argument anyway. Before long they will amend the law to disallow SERVING it, in addition to selling it, and that will be that. Blame the idiots who wrote the law. I could see THAT "loop hole" a mile away when they first started talking about the proposed law.

Posted by Otto Maddox, a resident of Monta Loma
on Jul 19, 2012 at 3:17 pm

"There are plenty of laws that I disagree with, but I follow them."

Nonsense.. I promise you there are times when you speed, when you don't come to a complete stop at a stop sign, when you don't claim every single penny of income in your taxes.. and you don't turn yourself in.

You do it because you don't get caught.

I think the law banning this stuff is so lame. If it's so horrible and so many people don't like, why is there a market for it?

I think the law was written exactly this way to allow for exactly what has happened. The law makers didn't want to really ban anything. They just wanted it to look like they were.

We're talking about ducks right? We can't ban waterboarding humans (legally it's still an option for the President if you didn't know that) but we're going to ban force feeding ducks?

We have our priorities so out of whack we may never get back at this point.

Posted by Doris, a resident of North Whisman
on Jul 19, 2012 at 3:23 pm

In a free market, the choice should be made by the consumer. If we all feel that it is not right to consume or use a product, we won't buy it, and the producers will eventually go out of business unless they find a market somewhere else. Whether it is foie gras or something else doesn't matter, the same principle applies. I wonder if we really need this over-regulation. It is not what this country stands for.

Posted by Nikonbob, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jul 19, 2012 at 4:06 pm if the geese WANT to consume that much food, why do they have to be forced? Why not give them all they want to eat and let them eat it naturally, rather than forcing a tube down their throats?

It would be interested in seeing some actual evidence of this, if it exists.

Posted by Nikonbob, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jul 19, 2012 at 6:51 pm

@doris...if you think that farmers should be free of regulation to treat animals any way they want, and it's up to the consumer to control them with their pocket book, then you either lack compassion or common sense. I guess mutilating sharks by cutting off their fins, then tossing them back to sea, unable to swim, is fine with you as well. .

Hopefully, you're just uninformed.

Posted by Devin, a resident of another community
on Jul 19, 2012 at 8:06 pm

If Joey Elenterio, who is executive chef truly believes that this is not inhumane then I will make the same wager I offered to the owner of Sonoma Foie Gras which he didn't accept. Allow the chef/owner to be force fed with a funnel down his throat the equivalent amount of times per day as these ducks receive for lets say 3 months. No days off or excuses and in exchange if he makes it I will pay him $500, heck I will pay $1,000 and let a third party hold my money as well as his. The catch is that this has to be administered in the equivalent percentage to body weight that ducks undergo and be recorded for proof and also administered through a funnel. So same rules that these ducks undergo with percentage of food forced down his throat related to his body mass. How about it Joey? If everyone spreads this challenge maybe we can find out if Joey Elenterio is all talk or if he walks the walk. Oh and one side note, I accept no liability for medical issues which arise from this challenge cause I'm sure there will be some.

Posted by Question, a resident of Cuernavaca
on Jul 19, 2012 at 8:59 pm

Is he just exhausting his inventory, or is he purchasing additional supply? If it's the former, this is a short term issue. If it's the latter, then it seems there's bigger fish to fry in the supply chain.

Posted by Paris, a resident of another community
on Jul 19, 2012 at 11:15 pm

"foie gras is not on the menu and is only given to customers when the chef sees fit." This is not true. It is listed on the menu at the bottom in very fine print. Claiming that if the customer pays $130 they will get free foie gras
So using this premise...does that mean I can go up to the bartender who will then sell me a $50 Martini with a "free" joint on the side?
What is the difference?
The law is the law, and like the commenter above says, There are lots of laws I don't like, but I abide anyway. We must play fair. Chez TJ is not obeying the law. Period!
Oh and Elenteria, google "foie gras cruelty images"....then tell us they are not being tortured.

Posted by MagicPeaceLove, a resident of Shoreline West
on Jul 19, 2012 at 11:26 pm

Not that I would have ever gone to Chez TJs in any case but this story certainly leaves me with a very distasteful feeling about them, and their chef.

On the other hand, cruelty against animals is an undeniable part our entire animal-based food culture and it seems hypocritical to get all riled up about one, relatively small corner and ignore the massive elephant in the room. Any place that serves any kind of meat is participating in abject cruelty against animals while contributing to the rapid destruction of our ecosystem. No amount of denial can wash away that fact.

Posted by Mike, a resident of another community
on Jul 19, 2012 at 11:37 pm

Doris: you said "In a free market, the choice should be made by the consumer." So I guess you'd say that child pornography should be legal, too. Nonsense! The victims of cruelty must be considered, and society needs to protect those that are unable to protect themselves.

Posted by David, a resident of Blossom Valley
on Jul 20, 2012 at 12:05 am

Mike, geese are not child pornography victims. To make such a bizarre comparison invalidates your argument. We do no eat children, nor serve them on a plate at christmas dinner filled with stuffing. We do, however, do that to geese because they are food and people eat them. And people have no moral dilemmas with that. But if you do, you are free not to eat it. And if you have moral dilemmas with foie gras (which many people do not for a host of reasons), you are free to abstain from that as well.

Posted by Old Ben, a resident of Shoreline West
on Jul 20, 2012 at 4:06 am

First they came for the smokers...

Posted by Otto Maddox, a resident of Monta Loma
on Jul 20, 2012 at 7:07 am

Wow.. waterboarding is still legal in this country and here you all are arguing about some ducks being force fed.

Then someone compares this to kiddie porn. Really?

This country has it's priorities so far out of whack I don't know if we can ever get back where we belong.

It's a duck which was raised to be eaten. That's just how it goes.

Posted by Mike, a resident of another community
on Jul 20, 2012 at 9:30 am

The point is that allowability of animal abuse, just like sexual abuse of children, is not to be determined by "a free market". Such abuse must be prohibited by civilized society. That is done via law.

Posted by Greg, a resident of Cuesta Park
on Jul 20, 2012 at 10:03 am

You can make fatty goose liver without force feeding. It's called "ad libitum" foie gras. The goose is allowed to eat as much as they are willing, and the mass feeding is timed to coincide with migration.

I'm not a foie gras fan, so I don't know if it is good or if anywhere around here sells it.

Posted by USA, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jul 20, 2012 at 1:01 pm

"The menu is inspired by what Mother Nature is bearing from our Garden coupled with the finest ingredients the world has to offer" Web Link


Posted by Old Ben, a resident of Shoreline West
on Jul 20, 2012 at 1:43 pm

What goes into your mouth is far less important than what comes out of it. The trifecta of political correctness these days is a transgendered nonsmoking vegan. I have absolutely no problem with transgendered nonsmoking vegans, as long as they don't try to FORCE-FEED their beliefs on me.

Posted by John, a resident of another community
on Jul 20, 2012 at 2:10 pm

Where do these animal rights activists get their morality. And why is their morality superior to mine. I'll let them eat what ever they want, just leave me alone. I thought the period of blues laws was long past. How dare they impose their morality on me.

Posted by Sharon, a resident of Whisman Station
on Jul 20, 2012 at 2:37 pm

"In a free market the choice should be made by the consumer....Whether it is foie gras or something else does not matter, the same principle applies."

So, Doris, would you then like to change the law against eating dogs and cats? Laws against animal cruelty conform to community standards. If you want to eat foie gras, you could go to France and if you want to eat dogs and cats, there are some Asian countries where you could do that. Most of us consider eating dogs and cats to be barbaric but don't have as much sympathy for many other animals. That's what changing the law is all about.

Posted by Aaron, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jul 20, 2012 at 5:23 pm

I didn't understand why people objected to foie gras until I watched this video on how the ducks were treated.

Web Link

Posted by Nikonbob, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jul 21, 2012 at 1:27 am

Aaron...thanks for sharing the video. So many of the comments here miss the point of the objection to foie gras. It's not that we think people should be told what to eat, it's that we don't want animals to be subjected to cruelty.

It's not just geese either. There are dozens of videos documenting unbelievable cruelty in the production of meat and poultry. If people want to ignore that, or don't have a problem with it, that's up to them. But why criticize and ridicule people that feel treating the animals with respect is the right thing to do?

Posted by Old Ben, a resident of Shoreline West
on Jul 21, 2012 at 10:34 am

Because you are trying to ram your beliefs down our throats. It's like the smoking ban: it started with planes, restaurants, and offices. Okay, that's reasonable. Then it extended to bars, that's not so reasonable: people, including bar OWNERS, should be able to CHOOSE. Now it's on the streets, in the parks, and on beaches in some places. There's even talk of banning smoking in APARTMENTS, which is outrageous.

Totalitarianism comes incrementally. We've seen that with the smoking issue. Today it's foie gras, tomorrow it'll be cheeseburgers.

Nobody cares if you choose not to eat it. Try telling ME what I can't eat and I'll put YOU on my platter.

Posted by Nukem, a resident of Monta Loma
on Jul 22, 2012 at 8:07 pm

Nukem is a registered user.

Militant vegans are forcing their cult on us.

Let us kill and eat animals. It is our freedom. Nobody cares what some geese think.

Posted by Kim, a resident of Rex Manor
on Jul 23, 2012 at 5:47 pm

I just read the Chef's tweets... He has NO class. I'm disgusted that the fingers that type his comments- touches food!!! I'll NEVER eat there again- YUK!

Posted by Bob Huenemann, a resident of another community
on Jul 28, 2012 at 5:18 pm

By all means boycott Chef TJ. They won't miss your business. You damn commies can't afford to eat there, so your comments are just sour grapes.

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