Travail’s Foie Gras at the Minnesota State Fair

The toughest ticket in town right now is a seat at Travail Kitchen and Amusements. Earlier this week, Bon Appetit magazine placed the Robbinsdale startup as number four on the country’s top ten new restaurants.

“We’re just trying to hold onto the reins,” said Mike Brown, Travail’s wunderkind chef-owner-waiter of the surge in customers wanting a table in his 60-seat gastropub. “We’ve seen a big bump. Tuesday night was like a Saturday night, and the weekend is already packed.”

This Sunday (Aug. 28), eaters eager to taste the alchemy Brown works with foie gras will be able to taste his toothsome morsels for free.

At the State Fair, no less.

The ancient treat of kings will available for sampling by attendees of the Great Minnesota Get Together as part of the 9th annual Minnesota Cooks, a daylong event at Carousel Park. Presented by the Minnesota Farmer’s Union, the series of demos and tastings showcases the close-and-getting-closer relationship between sustainable food producers and restaurants.

Alli Wade / Heavy Table

The foie gras that Brown will season and sear is duck liver produced near Caledonia, Minnesota, by Christian Gasset. His Au Bon Canard farm is a free range, egg-to-plate operation. If you’ve ordered any part of the duck in the Twin Cities best reviewed restaurants, including La Belle Vie, Bar La Grassa, 112 Eatery, Haute Dish, and Heartland, you’ve tasted Gasset’s Moullards, a hybrid of a male Muscovy and a female Pekin. Gasset sells everything but the feathers and the honk of the animals in his sustainable flock.

Mike Brown is perhaps his most enthusiastic customer. Foie gras is a staple at Travail.

“I love eating it and serving it,” Brown said. “I never will not have it on my menu.”

Travail diners chow through four or five lobes of the rich duck liver every week. Known for his playful inventiveness,  Brown uses foie gras’ buttery silkiness like Bubba used shrimp in “Forrest Gump”: foie gras mousse, foie gras terrine,  foie gras popsicles, foie gras dippin’ dots, foie gras cappucino, foie gras raw.

Alli Wade / Heavy Table

Onstage Sunday at 11am, Brown will serve it with root beer grits, compressed watermelon, corn pudding and micro cilantro. Gasset and Brown have developed a working friendship over Au Bon Canard’s duck liver. Last spring, ten members of Travail’s restaurant staff rolled a rented RV into Gasset’s farmyard to spend the weekend learning first
hand about how Gasset tends his 2000 bird flock.

Foie gras has come under fire from animal rights activists, angered over the ancient practice of force feeding the birds so their livers enlarge and engorge.

“We like the way he takes care of his animals,” Brown said admiringly. “Most geese and ducks that produce foie gras live in a concrete jungle. Christian raises them ethically and by hand on an old fashioned farm. If animals are taken care of in a certain way, it produces a superior product. You can taste the difference.”

With a wholesale price of $45 a pound, Gasset knows that most Minnesotans have not tasted his foie gras and that “fattened duck liver” may be a hard sell, even to a mass audience that clearly appreciates fat.

“I hope people will have an open mind,” he said. “People expect it to have a strong flavor, so they’re surprised by the refined taste. It’s controversial, so we will see what happens.”

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