The news that luxury department store Fortnum & Mason will be removing foie gras from its shelves after continued pressure from campaigners has been described as a huge step forward by chef Alexis Gauthier.
The French chef used to sell 20kg of foie gras a week at his London restaurant, Gauthier Soho, until he removed it from the menu in 2015 after protests outside his restaurant from the London Vegan Action Group.
The product, made from the liver of a goose or duck that has been force-fed in a process known as ‘gavage’ to produce a smooth, rich meat, has long been a contentious issue, with many believing the practice to be outdated and cruel.
“It’s wonderful that a large company has made the decision to stop selling it altogether,” Gauthier says. “Delicious food should never come at the cost of torturing an animal. Perhaps 80 years ago we may have thought this was fine, but with what we know now about the consciousness of animals, I see it as barbaric.”
The chef himself turned fully vegan in 2015 having taken part in an international vegan month organised by animal rights activist group PETA – an action Gauthier took initially simply “to test the water”, but which in addition to growing demand from celebrity diners including Stella McCartney, Tom Cruise and Al Gore, led him to make the switch to an entirely vegan menu.
In the end, he explains, the move was “a natural step forward, with 50 to 60 per cent of all bookings at the restaurant made for the existing ‘les plantes’ menu.” His restaurant, in non-Covid times, serves a seven-course vegan tasting menu, including ‘faux gras’, Gauthier’s own recipe made from lentils, walnuts and soy sauce, created to replicate the taste of foie gras. “When we first took [the original] off the menu we lost some customers,” he explains, “but this was a small price to pay to be safe in the knowledge that we weren’t using such a cruel ingredient.”
Gauthier isn’t the only chef to have removed the product from the kitchen; in 2008, Daniel Clifford’s Michelin-starred Midsummer House in Cambridge was forced to take it off the menu after the exterior of the restaurant was vandalised by the Animal Liberation Front. The House of Lords also removed foie gras from the menu of its Barry Room restaurant in 2012 after pressure from animal rights groups.
Hoping to sway the Government to impose a ban on the product, as was seen in the state of New York in 2019 (where the ban will come into effect in 2022), Gauthier recently wrote a letter to Boris Johnson on the matter. “I was very surprised to get a response,” he reveals, “and even more so to get another from the Department of Agriculture! They informed me that this was an issue they were keen to look into this year. Of course, Covid may delay this, but I’m hopeful that we could see a nationwide ban in the future.”
In the meantime, Gauthier predicts that the decision taken by the famous upmarket department store, which holds a royal warrant, will have a significant impact on the sale of foie gras throughout the UK. “I think this will have a domino effect on the industry, and I couldn’t be happier,” he says. “British people understand that certain traditions belong in the past. It’s 2021; we should know better by now.”