Editor’s Note: A story posted on Aug. 27 mistakenly said that chef Ken Frank had agreed to stop serving foie gras. He says he did not, in fact, make such an agreement. The story was based on incomplete reporting and did not meet the Register’s editorial standards, so it was removed from the web temporarily pending further reporting. We apologize for the error.A lawsuit filed six years ago by an animal rights group accusing a Napa Michelin-starred restaurant of illegally selling foie gras ended last week with a judgment in the restaurant’s favor.
Napa County Superior Court Judge Victoria Wood granted her own motion to end the prolonged litigation filed in 2013 against La Toque by the Animal Legal Defense Fund based in Cotati.
Using undercover diners, the Animal Legal Defense Fund had accused La Toque and its chef, Ken Frank, of circumventing a 2012 state ban on the distribution and sale of foie gras.
The animal rights group claimed that La Toque violated the ban by serving foie gras as a “gift” that accompanied the restaurant’s tasting menu.
Frank maintained that La Toque had only given away foie gras at random, at the chef’s discretion, and that the assertion behind the suit were unfounded.
In a press release Tuesday, the Animal Legal Defense Fund said the Napa court dismissed its lawsuit against La Toque after the restaurant promised to “never again sell foie gras in violation of a statewide ban.”
The restaurant disputed this assessment, saying that La Toque never sold foie gras while the state ban was in effect.
Foie gras — French for “fat liver” — is a luxury food product made from the liver of a duck or goose that has been fattened, often using forced feeding.
In an interview Tuesday, Frank said he had visited his suppliers of foie gras and was convinced that “these animals do not suffer.”
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“I’d have taken it off the menu decades ago and fought to ban it” if the situation were otherwise, he said.
In a declaration filed with the Napa suit, Frank said he had been a high-profile critic of the ban on foie gras, testifying before the Legislature that there are humane ways of producing foie gras that do not injure ducks.
While the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s case against La Toque played out locally, a more far-reaching lawsuit challenging the state ban has been winding through federal courts.
In 2015, the ban was rejected by the U.S. District Court for California’s Central District after an appeal by foie gras producers and a restaurant owners association. Foie gras went back on the menus of California restaurants, including La Toque while the case continued through the appeals process.
In January, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal, resulting in the lifting of an injunction blocking the state ban. For the past eight months, the selling of foie gras has again become illegal in California.
Frank said he fully expects a federal appeals court to rule this year on the constitutionality of California’s foie gras ban and for fatty liver to again become legal in restaurants.
“I’ll put it back on the menu the very day it becomes legal,” Frank said. “I’m ready to put it back on the menu tomorrow.”
Frank’s attorney, Michel Tenenbaum of Santa Monica, said the California law was overreaching. “I believe the same people who want to have the government out of your bedrooms should have the government out of your kitchen as well.”
La Toque’s owners, LT Napa Partners LLC, said they would ask the Napa court to order the Animal Legal Defense Fund to reimburse them for several thousand dollars in court costs.