May 14: Chef Didier Durand, of Cyrano's Bistrot & Wine Bar, holds his pet duck, Nicolai, outside his restaurant in Chicago.
Dining on foie gras — a delicacy of duck and goose liver — will soon be legal again in Chicago.
The Chicago City Council on Wednesday repealed its controversial two-year-old ban on the gourmet dish, drawing dissent from animal rights activists who consider foie gras cruel because the geese and ducks are force-fed to make their livers bigger.
But there were no worries in chef Didier Durand's Loop restaurant, Cyrano's Bistrot.
"All of us are so excited," Durand told reporters as he held his pet duck, Nicolai, named after French President Nicolas Sarkozy. "People miss it. They used to go to the suburbs to get foie gras and stopped going to specifically French restaurants."
Durand was one of a coalition of local restaurateurs who started Chicago Chefs for Choice, a movement to overturn the ban that went into effect in August 2006. He said Wednesday that he would begin serving foie gras again as soon as the repeal goes into effect later this month.
"You might disagree with serving foie gras, but you don't do a ban and forbid everybody to have foie gras," Durand said. His restaurant was one of many across the city that hosted foie gras dinners in the days before the ban took effect.
The animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals called the repeal a political maneuver benefiting the restaurant industry. The Norfolk, Va.-based group said the council's first "compassionate decision was reversed in a secretive, rushed bow to special interests that benefit from the cruel treatment of animals."
Wednesday's vote was led by Mayor Richard M. Daley, who called the ban the "silliest" ordinance the City Council has ever passed. The repeal measure passed by a vote of 37-6 with no debate, an about-face from the original ban, which passed in April 2006 by a vote of 48-1.
During Wednesday's vote, the ban's original sponsor, Alderman Joe Moore, shouted his objections.
"It was a statement against animal cruelty pure and simple," Moore said after the vote. "They used a little parliamentary procedure avoiding any public hearing and debate on the measure. I don't think that's very healthy for a democracy or very healthy for the city."
Alderman Thomas Tunney, who brought the issue to vote, said the sentiments of most Chicagoans was served.
"Supporters of this legislation have accomplished their goal by raising awareness of this issue," Tunney said in a statement. "And while I respect their viewpoint, this is clearly a matter the council should stay out of and let the educated consumer and chefs make their own menu choices."
Doug Sohn, owner of Hot Doug's on the city's North Side, was fined $250 in March 2007 for a first-time offense of serving foie gras. While taking and serving orders at the self-titled "sausage superstore and encased meat emporium," Sohn said the repeal was the right decision.
"I certainly think it was a foolish decision in the first place," Sohn said. "I truly hope this ends it. There are real important issues in this city. This is certainly not one of them. I hope we're done with this nonsense."
The Illinois Restaurant Association along with a local restaurant had filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking the ban be overturned, but a U.S. District Court judge dismissed the effort last June.
The association said in a statement Wednesday that, "As an industry, we think that menu offerings are best left to the individual restaurant operators, rather than being dictated by government."
More than a dozen countries, mostly in Europe, have banned production of the delicacy. Similar measures have been considered in California, Maryland and Pennsylvania.