Chicago's Foie Gras Ban Rankles Restaurants

Starting today, a city-wide ban forbids Chicago restaurants from selling foie gras. In protest, Connie's Pizza in Chicago is selling pizza topped with foie gras. Robert Siegel talks with Ivan Matsunaga, executive vice president of Connie's, who says that Connie's has sold "a few dozen" foie gras pizzas.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Anyone hoping to stay in that lower, safer range of the body mass index may want to avoid certain rich foods, such as foie gras and if you live in Chicago that shouldn't be too hard. Starting today it is illegal for Chicago restaurants to sell foie gras, the fattened liver of a duck or a goose that is a staple of fine French cuisine. A lawsuit filed today challenges the ban.

And while the ban on foie gras has irked a few French chefs and inspired some even to acts of culinary disobedience, it has also provided an opportunity for at least one pizza joint. Ivan Matsunaga is the executive vice president of Connie's Pizza in Chicago. What is Connie's Pizza doing with foie gras?

Mr. IVAN MATSUNAGA (Executive Vice-President Connie's Pizza): Today for one day only we are selling a pizza topped with foie gras, something that we have never seen in our 43 years. None of our cooks have touched it. None of our facilities have ever received it before.

SIEGEL: It's against the law.

Mr. MATSUNAGA: You know, and even that is a gray area as the city clerk's office was unsure whether the law actually goes into effect today or tomorrow.

SIEGEL: I see. So this could be the last day of legal foie gras as a pizza topping.

Mr. MATSUNAGA: And certainly that's one of the reasons why we are doing this. Most importantly, it's to show our support of our chefs, our fellow restaurant brethren, that we should have the freedom of choice on our menus.

SIEGEL: What about the idea that the raising of the geese or the ducks to create foie gras is in fact cruel to the animals, who are force fed in the process. They become enormous. Animal rights activists and the politicians who passed this ban may have a point about it. What do you say to that?

Mr. MATSUNAGA: Well, at the end of the day what we're concerned with is the constitutionality. It goes back to being free to make choices within legal limits. And as far as we know foie gras is a legal item in the United States.

SIEGEL: Have you tasted the foie gras pizza?

Mr. MATSUNAGA: I have.

SIEGEL: And?

Mr. MATSUNAGA: It is a very unique item.

SIEGEL: Even once the foie gras is banned, you could stick with chopped liver and many people would barely know the difference.

Mr. MATSUNAGA: Well, you know those types of decisions are based on consumer demand and based on consumer response today, a lot of folks walking into our restaurants love the idea but personally would never order it. It's just not their style of product.

SIEGEL: Why are we not surprised by that?

Mr. MATSUNAGA: At the end of the day, it's a consumer driven decision.

SIEGEL: Now you know there are some people, not from Chicago but from points east, who regard Chicago deep dish pizza as of questionable authenticity to begin with. You're playing here with people's doubts already about authenticity by putting foie gras on top of it. So people will call it quiche pretty soon.

Mr. MATSUNAGA: You know, Chicago style pizza is the first thing that pops into everybody's mind whether they agree or disagree. Chicago deep dish pizza is in everyone's mind, whether or not they agree with its authenticity or validity.

SIEGEL: Well Mr. Matsunaga thank you very much for talking with us about the response of Connie's Pizza and of chefs and restaurateurs in Chicago to the city council's ban on foie gras in your city.

Mr. MATSUNAGA: My pleasure, Robert.

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