Foie gras is back on the menu of at least one of the big Burrito group's restaurants, and members of Voices for Animals aren't going to let it go unprotested; they say they were told it was banished for good.
Not true, says big Burrito executive chef Bill Fuller, who oversees Mad Mex, Kaya, Soba, Casbah, Eleven and Umi.
Since early 2004, Voices members have been campaigning against the sale of foie gras -- the liver of ducks and geese force-fed to grow far beyond their normal size, hence the term "foie gras," or "fat liver," in French. The group maintains that such "gourmet cruelty" has no place in Pittsburgh, and have been writing letters to and picketing outside restaurants that serve it.
Restaurants such as Le Pommier and Baum Vivant have promised to remove it, while LaForet refuses, despite frequent VFA protests outside the Highland Park restaurant and a recent picket outside owner Robert Urrichio's home. Their Web site claims that 10 local restaurants have promised to remain foie gras-free, but that count includes the six owned by big Burrito.
"I met with Bill Fuller," says P.J. McKosky, a Voices campaign coordinator and steering committee member. "He assured us ... that big Burrito wouldn't sell it anymore." Foie gras was removed from all the big Burrito restaurants in summer 2004, according to both Fuller and McKosky. A Voices member saw it back on the menu at Soba a few months ago, which Fuller confirms.
Fuller disagrees, however, that the chain promised to remove the delicacy permanently, saying big Burrito agreed to pull the item from menus for a time and to consider their position on it.
Recently, another Voices member spotted foie gras on the menu at Eleven in the Strip District: an appetizer on the Valentine's Day menu, duck confit, included a foie gras vinaigrette. It also appeared on Eleven's frequently changing menu last week.
"We will not be bullied into running our business to fit your specifications," Fuller told the group via e-mail last week. "We did not commit to future seasonal menu planning."
"We try to accommodate people from one end of the dining spectrum to the other," Fuller says, from vegans to red-meat fanatics.
But Voices had still planned to protest at Eleven on Feb. 13 and 14.
"I suspect that they'll eventually be the responsible, compassionate Pittsburgh citizens that they claim to be and stop selling it," says McKosky, "but for real this time."