In Defense of a Controversial Ingredient
Barry Wiggins, a 51-year-old transplanted Southerner now living and working in Washington, D.C., likes to joke that he didn’t accrue his current body mass index by eating grass and drinking spring water. Instead, the fine-dining enthusiast prefers more savory and indulgent fare, and nothing is more satisfying, he says, than foie gras. "Properly prepared, seared foie gras possibly gives you everything you could want if you’re a carnivore. It gives you that richness and buttery texture and there’s a great grilled flavor to it."
When Wiggins is craving such decadence he puts his trust in Cathal Armstrong, the head chef at Restaurant Eve (www.restauranteve.com) in the Old Town section of Alexandria, Va. As Wiggins explains, the Dublin-born chef not only believes in the virtues of foie gras, he also believes in generous portions of it. "In these times, when foie gras is under attack and with health issues," Wiggins says, "Cathal is unabashedly in favor of using this ingredient to the maximum to give you unique combinations of flavor."
The restaurant’s menu changes regularly and there always are a number of foie gras presentations to try, but for Wiggins, his go-to favorite is steak frites, at least when Chef Armstrong accents it with seared foie gras and an over-easy goose or duck egg. "The yolk pours out over the foie gras and the meat," Wiggins says, "and with all due respect to the American Heart Association, it’s one of the greatest meals you can have. It’s just so rich and unctuous."
That richness is one of the reasons why Shan Kanagasingham, the GM of a boutique Manhattan hotel, first fell in love with foie gras more than 25 years ago. "I thought, ‘oh my god, this has to be the most amazing thing that I’ve put in my mouth,’" she recalls. Today, the 41-year-old often settles in at a table at Crown (www.crown81.com) on the Upper East Side, where chef proprietor John DeLucie prepares a chilled Hudson Valley foie gras terrine paired with seasonal fruit and a 50-year balsamic reduction. Depending on the time of year, DeLucie might reach for black cherries and rhubarb or wild blueberries and white peaches, and Kanagasingham says such variety always entices her to come back. "That’s a layer that makes it interesting and keeps it fresh and seasonal," she says.
Seasonality is also an important factor for Graham Gill, the executive chef at the Windham Hill Inn (www.windhamhill.com) in West Townshend, Vt. There, as a part of a five-course tasting menu, the British chef often combines a torchon of foie gras with poached fruit or a chutney and accents the dish with toasted hazelnuts, or a bread pudding, or sometimes with brioche toast points. Richard McCarthy visits the restaurant at least a couple of times each season and explains that the already luscious foie gras dishes are further enhanced by equally rich wine pairings, such as a recent preparation composed of brioche bread pudding and a fig and date chutney that was served with a Cabernet Franc. "The sweetness of the chutney gave it that special something," says McCarthy, "and the red wine, the earthiness of it, it really topped it off."
Most of the dishes mentioned to this point have played off traditional preparations of foie gras, but for a creative reimagining of its possibilities, Chantal Fernandes, a hospitality professional in Phuket, Thailand, would urge any foie gras enthusiast to visit Recipe by Ryan, an intimate restaurant at Phuket’s Paresa Resort (www.paresaresorts.com), where chef Ryan Arboleda creates foie gras tasting menus that even include a foie gras dessert. "That was the most amazing dish out of them all," Fernandes says of the meal’s finale, which included vanilla and Sauternes- marinated foie gras caramelized with a pear and Granny Smith tartine and topped with a plum reduction, ricotta cheese, and vanilla ice cream. "He just blew us all away because we weren’t expecting to enjoy it."