Yesterday Rougié, the world’s largest producer of foie gras, introduced a number of us to their method of foie gras production, dispelled all myths of the ‘cruelty’ of this production, and spoilt us with a wonderful Chef’s Table lunch at the Mount Nelson Hotel.
Guy de Saint-Laurent, Directeur: Commercial Export of Rougié Sarlat, flew in from France to explain to Chef Rudi Liebenberg from the Mount Nelson’s Planet Restaurant, Chef Dylan Laity of Aubergine, and Chef Darren Badenhorst from Grande Provence how duck foie gras is produced. The company specialises in foie gras supply to the restaurant industry, and calls itself the ‘Chef’s Foie Gras’. We were told that foie gras is one of the oldest food products, having been developed in Egypt 5000 years ago, the Pharaohs already force fattening wild birds at that time. For their long journeys to other parts of the world in winter, the birds naturally overfeed to create a natural layer of fat around their liver, for their long flights, doubling their weight. The first foie gras recipes emanate from Rome, and were based on geese livers. Now 80% of the world’s production comes from France, with another 15 % being produced in Spain, Belgium, Japan, and the USA. With the introduction of corn from America to France, the production of foie gras was revolutionised, in being used to force feed the ducks and geese. Foie gras is produced from Moulard ducks, a cross between Muscovy and Pekin ducks. Up to 98% of all foie gras is made from duck, taking 12 weeks to breed and 10 days to be fattened, while geese need 14 weeks breeding time and 21 days of fattening. Duck foie gras is more affordable therefore, and tastes better, Guy said. Its preparation has been mainly pan-fried or seared in the past, but Rougié is working on guiding chefs to find more uses for it. The company has recently set up the L’Ecole Du Foie Gras, teaching chefs the art of foie gras usage.
We were shown a video of how duck are fed a boiled corn ‘mash’ with a tube which goes into their crop, the process called ‘gavage‘. This process takes 3 minutes, and is done once a day over the last 12 days of the duck’s life. Vets visit the foie gras farms, and confirmed that ducks are ‘anatomically pre-disposed to be force fed’, having a long neck, and that there is ‘no indication of stress’ to the ducks, a study showed. The quality of the treatment of the ducks is reflected in the quality of the foie gras that is produced. Rougié exports foie gras to 120 countries around the world, either raw, in cans, or flash frozen, the latter having a taste and texture ‘as good as fresh’. The company is a co-operative of about 700 duck farmers, foie gras being one of the products they make.
Foie gras has nutritional benefits, containing Vitamins B, C, and E. A slice of foie gras has 260 Kcal, compared to a hamburger having 275 Kcal, and a pizza 600 Kcal. It has good fat similar to that in olive oil, and protects the heart. It is a food that can be adapted to the food traditions of the world, going well with the sweet, sour, and acidity in ingredients. The Japanese are even making foie gras sushi, and the Chinese are making foie gras dumplings for Dim Sum.
While we were listening to the presentation, Chef Rudi’s team was busy preparing a foie gras feast for us, a nine-course lunch of small portions, to demonstrate the diversity of foie gras. Chef Rudi’s brief to his team was to do him and the foie gras proud in the dishes that they created for this unique lunch. Three foie gras canapés were served with Villiera Tradition Brut NV, a terrine with beetroot, a macaroon, and a whipped foie gras torchon. We discussed the reaction to foie gras, and that the state of California has banned its use in restaurants, despite foie gras being USDA approved. Restaurants in the state wish to reverse the ban through legal action. Guy said that the negative reaction comes from foie gras being seen to be for the well-to-do, making it elitist, the gavache method of feeding, and the love for comic characters such as Daffy and Donald Duck.
We started with frozen shaved foie gras, which was served with pine nuts and litchi, a fresh surprise combination of ingredients, which Assistant Sommelier Farai Magwada paired with Bellingham’s The Bernard Series Chenin Blanc 2011. Guy told us that he has chefs which visit restaurants around the world, especially to those far away from France, to educate and excite chefs about the preparation of foie gras. Last week Guy and Sagra Foods, the importers of the Rougié foie gras, had hosted similar lunches at The Westcliff with Chef Klaus Beckmann, and at The Saxon with Chef David Higgs, of whom Guy said that his work was two star Michelin quality, having been more classic in his foie gras usage. Foie gras served with fresh apple, apple chutney, on an oats streusel, was paired with Spier Private Collection Chardonnay 2007.
I asked Guy about cookbooks about foie gras, and he told me that three have been written to date, one produced for Rougié, another done by Chef Nobu of the restaurant group by the same name, and the third by Beijing restaurant Da Dong. Given that Rougié was not prescriptive about how the foie gras should be served at its South African lunches, it seemed a good idea to develop a compilation of the dishes served, perhaps even including those lying ahead for Guy in Mauritius and Reunion. An indian touch came through with foie gras and curried banana being sandwiched between two poppadom crisps, served with a fresh Solms-Delta Koloni 2010. A fun dish was pairing foie gras with popcorn and chicken breast, which was paired with Jordan Chameleon 1995. As if we had not eaten enough already, we had a small palate cleanser, being duck confit with artichoke and mash.
We moved to fish, for which we were served fish knives, for hake cured with lemon and lemon grass, served with foie gras spuma and grilled melon, and paired with Cederberg Bukettraube 2011. Guy explained that sous vide was invented for foie gras, and has since been adapted for use for other foods. He also told me that French chefs predominantly used foie gras in terrines, but since Rougié has started marketing their products, and running their chefs’ courses, they are seeing it put to a greater number of creative uses. The beef, marinated mushrooms, and foie gras emulsion was paired with L’Omarins Optima 2006. We talked about Chef Rudi’s support of Farmer Angus at Spier, buying his free-range meats, and having guinea fowl and turkey bred for his restaurant.
The Mount Nelson’s creative pastry chef Vicky Gurovich has just returned from a stage at Chef Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir in Great Milton, and visited Valrhona in Paris. Her dessert creation of a foie gras, Valrhona chocolate and toffee terrine served with hazelnuts was the pièce de résistance. It was paired with Nederburg Eminence Noble Late Harvest 2009.
Sagra Foods was established in 1994, and operates from Cape Town, but distributes a range of exclusive foods and wines nationally, and even into Southern Africa, planning to make this country a hub of distribution of its fine foods into Africa, Darryn Lazarus said. They commenced with Italian products, but decided to focus and specialise on premium products such as truffle oils, truffle butters, and many more, to make these products more affordable for local chefs. Darryn said they are the ‘pioneers in specialty ingredients’, using wholesalers like Wild Peacock to offer chefs a single source of supply. They import products ‘that make a difference’ from France, Spain, Italy, Belgium, Australia, and the USA. So, for example, they sell El Bulli’s Texturas range, being the technical elements which once world best Chef Ferran Adria uses in his molecular gastronomy; De Cecco pasta from Italy; Vilux French mustards and vinegars; Borde dried mushrooms; Belberry jams, sauces, syrups, and vinegars; pastry cases with an 8 month shelf life; Australian Massel beef, chicken and vegetable stocks which are kosher, halaal, and gluten-free; and Tea Forte, the original designers of the tea pyramid, with such award-winning tea flavours as Blueberry Merlot and Lemon Sorbet.
The Mount Nelson was praised by Guy for its playful and less classic interpretation of the foie gras challenge, and he liked how the structure and taste of the foie gras was brought to the fore with the ingredients used by Chef Rudi’s chefs. It was a most informative, once-in-a-lifetime lunch highlight, with excellent food, paired with a amazing range of wines, good company, and hosted in a special venue inside the sixty year old Mount Nelson kitchen. Merci beaucoup!
Sagra Food & Wine Merchants, 10 Flamingo Crescent, Lansdowne, Cape Town. Tel (021) 761-3360. www.sagrafoods.com. Twitter: @SagraFoodsZA
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage