Tortured Ducks rescued
Activists' attacks prompt foie gras chef to change his tune
Plans include improving duck farm conditions
Saturday, September 27, 2003
A prominent Bay Area chef and his partners, staggering under attacks by animal-rights activists, say they will improve conditions at their farm near Stockton where they force-feed ducks to make a French delicacy called foie gras.
The men also have decided that duck products won't be such a key part of the menu at a Sonoma specialty-foods shop they plan to open next month.
"We don't have cages, true, but it is not enough," said Didier Jaubert, whose home was attacked by animal-rights extremists in August and who is partners with Aqua chef Laurent Manrique. "There are sometimes animals who are sick, and they need to be taken care of right away. There are a set of rules and regulations, but the idea would be to go beyond these rules and have best production."
The pair's shop, Sonoma Saveurs, was intended to showcase products from the duck farm, but it was vandalized last month by what police are calling domestic terrorists. The attackers broke into the historic adobe building on the Sonoma Plaza and poured cement into drains, spray-painted anti-foie-gras graffiti on virtually every new appliance and flooded the building, forcing a neighboring business to close for weeks.
Manrique's Mill Valley house also was targeted. Vandals spray-painted messages such as "murderer" and poured acid on his car, and they left a threatening videotape of Manrique's family filmed through the window of his home, warning that he was being watched.
Police have estimated the damage from all the attacks at more than $60,000. The FBI and local police continue to investigate the attacks, which were outlined on two radical animal-rights Web sites.
Now, Manrique says he is scrambling to control a nightmare that seems to keep getting worse.
The opening of the store has been delayed more than two months, and he is desperate to protect Aqua, the premier downtown San Francisco restaurant where he is the chef -- especially in light of increasing national media attention regarding the way foie gras is made.
"I really wanted to remove Aqua from the whole thing," said Manrique, who fears the restaurant's reputation could be hurt or, worse, the restaurant itself could become a target of vandalism. Although Aqua serves foie gras from the Sonoma Foie Gras farm, the businesses are separate.
Manrique and his partners originally planned to use the ducks they raise at their Central Valley farm to make foie gras terrines, duck burgers and grilled duck ribs to sell at the Sonoma shop and restaurant. The farm already provides the liver to several top-notch Bay Area restaurants.
Now, Jaubert says, the attacks and the subsequent publicity have pushed the store's opening date back to mid-October, and the venture's focus has shifted from foie gras and related products to other gourmet food from Sonoma.
And the partners have scrapped their logo, which had depicted a smiling duck.
Ducks and geese naturally gorge themselves to make their livers fatty enough to sustain them through migration, but to make foie gras, the birds are force-fed during the last weeks of their lives to fatten their livers. At the two foie gras operations in the United States and several in France, metal tubes are inserted down their throats, and grain is pneumatically shot into their bellies.
In the weeks after the August attacks, animal-rights groups sent The Chronicle and other media video and print images purported to be from the Sonoma Foie Gras farm near Stockton. The images, supposedly shot by undercover activists, show injured ducks with blood on their feathers, ducks being attacking by rats and listless birds in cages, their beaks stuffed with regurgitated corn.
Jaubert, whose Santa Rosa home also was attacked in August, says animal-rights extremists broke into the farm earlier this month and stole four ducks. Gourmet Cruelty, a Washington-based group, claimed responsibility and outlined the theft on its Web site. Jaubert doubts that all the video images were really taken at his farm.
The men of Sonoma Saveurs also have hired Bay Area public relations man Sam Singer, whose clients include John and Denise DeBartolo York, owners of the San Francisco 49ers.
And Manrique and Jaubert say they remain committed to a product they say is part of their cultural tradition, and defend themselves against the activists.
"Basically, the big picture is these people are vegetarian who want no one to eat an animal," Jaubert said. "Foie gras is the first step because it is the weakest link."
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