One Year in a Restaurant - Week 22


I look down at the foie gras and it looks back at me.  I’ve been staring at the guy for a half hour already, too afraid to approach it and am instead fondling the outside of its smooth, coral flesh.

Foie gras is a dirty word.  Some people call it that because something about feeding a duck more food than usual is worse than any of the other atrocities we commit in the name of raising Tyson chickens.  I call foie a dirty word because it’s the forbidden offal culinary wannabes want to eat and pretend they like in the name of being cool.  It’s a taboo rite of passage, like your first underage drink or experience with cannabis.  On the outside people scold and lecture you, but on the inside they’re silently cheering and celebrating your milestone achievement.  Foie gras is borderline sacrilegious, and I love it.

So when The Chef asks, “Do you want to make a foie gras torchon?”, I’m giddy like a kid going to Disneyland but also equal parts terrified.  When was the last time you saw Emeril or Rachel Ray show you how to prepare a foie gras torchon?  Sure, lobsters are scary to prepare because they can claw at your thumbs and cost a fortune, but look at an eighty dollar hunk of liver staring so unassumingly back at you and you’ll know a different kind of kitchen fear.  So here I am, continuing to stare down at a perfect two pound lobe of grade A foie gras.

I take a final minute to let the intimidation wear off, admiring it in all of it’s shiny, greasy glory.  Over time the light coral flesh slowly softens like a stick of European butter, and I’m finally ready.  With Kenji’s guide in hand, I slowly use my fingers and offset spatula to spread it apart like buttercream.  I dig through and probe with my fingers, pulling out the veins with a pair of tweezers like I’m some sort of surgeon, except right now the foie is looking like a mangled mess.  As a disclaimer to future torchon makers, every step of preparing foie makes it feel like you’re royally screwing up.

The liver is unrecognizably flattened – to which I still feel one hundred percent unconfident – and the dry cure, meticulously measured to the tenth of the gram, is applied based off the weight of the foie gras, including curing salt to prevent the virgin pink flesh from discoloring. A sprinkling of Sauternes follows, and I sloppily flip over the square of flattened liver and repeat.

Next comes the trickiest part – the rolling and the tightening of these loosely packed, greasy chunks of liver into a tight cylinder.  I use the sheet of plastic wrap to roll it as tightly as possible, aggressively groping the mushy innards and constantly keeping in the back of my mind how much would be going to waste if I mess this all up.  I can’t find any butcher’s twine strong enough, so two five foot long pieces of plastic wrap are twisted together into a MacGyvered rope, wound around each end of the roll to tighten the foie.  The torchon (Whom I affectionately name Foie-liver) hangs in the walk in overnight for both the cure and the bondage to work their magic.

The next day he’s submerged in a hot bath to smooth the surface.  I panic as beads of fat start leaking out, although apparently Kenji says this is normal.  His rope is tightened once more before he’s sent back in the walk in for a few more days.

You’re probably sick of me talking about all of the food milestones I’ve hit this year – I am too, because it’s starting to get really annoying.  But here I am, at the age of twenty three, about to having my first ever bite of a foie gras torchon.  I unwrap Foie-liver from his protective shielding, trying hard to ignore the cylindrical firmness and how phallic this process has been.  He’s sliced and a piece is perched on a piece of toast fried in an almost too much amount of butter, with a few flakes of crunchy Maldon salt.

It’s hard accurately describe the taste of foie to someone who’s never had it – it’s too fundamentally unique.  It’s like asking someone to describe the flavor of beef without using the phrase “beefy.”  But as you eat it, it begins to smoothly melt and coat the mouth like a piece of Scharffen Berger chocolate.  The flavor is only subtly gamey - it is liver after all, but the funkiness is faint yet profound.  Think a more umami version of brie, with an undertone of roasted apple from the sauternes.  It takes a few minutes for me to digest everything that’s going on with my palate, but most of all I’m thinking how I would have never had the chance to make a foie gras torchon unless I was here at the restaurant.

Call it whatever term you want – foodie, animal abuser, gastronomer.  But I have stepped foot into the world of culinary pretentiousness