Calif. diners race to get foie gras while they can

(CBS News) LOS ANGELES - Fine restaurants from Sacramento to San Diego are about to be cut off from a classic ingredient.

Due to animal cruelty concerns, California will become the first state to make foie gras illegal, effective July 1.

Fans are rushing to get it while they still can.

Michael Voltaggio, of Ink restaurant in Los Angeles, is one of the hottest young chefs in town. The winner on the Bravo series "Top Chef" is about to lose one of his favorite foods - foie gras.

"The first time you taste it, it like changes you," Voltaggio says. "You eat it and you're just like, 'Wow! ... I can't even talk about it or put it into words - it's that type of ingredient - it's just good!"

Foie gras is an expensive French delicacy made from fattened duck livers. Voltaggio serves it as his signature Foie Gras Waffle.

"It's so delicious and scrumptious!" one diner raved.

"Ooooh -- it's the flavor that really makes it!" said another.

Across town, chef Josiah Citrin is trying to keep up with the foie feeding frenzy.

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His Michelin-starred restaurant, Melisse, has been slammed ahead of the foie ban.

"The creamy flavor, that rich texture, it's just amazing," Citrin observes.

"Some people say it's better than sex!" remarked Hiro Sone, chef of the Terra restaurant.

But not everyone.

"Hey hey, ho ho, animal cruelty's gotta go!" cried protesters who recently showed up in front of Citrin's doors, and they're ready for a foie fight.

"You're a vegan and you have a vegan agenda," complained one person at the restaurant.

Animal rights activists call foie the delicacy of despair, because ducks and geese are usually force fed corn to fatten their livers to make foie gras.

"It's one of the most cruelly obtained foods that I'm aware of, if you want to consider fatty duck liver a food," said one of the protesters, Jessica Schlueder.

Former State Senate President John Burton pushed the law in the California legislature, and was even backed by some chefs, including Wolfgang Puck. Burton dismisses critics who say the feeding process known as gavage is not harmful, although he admits he's never seen it done in person.

"I know what I'm banning," Burton insists. "I'm banning putting tubes down ducks and geese throats and forcing food into them, into their esophagus. That's what I'm banning. I don't have to see it to know that."

The ban isn't just impacting chefs who want to serve foie gras: The biggest impact is actually on the one family in California that actually makes the product, at a farm in Farmington, near Stockton."

Guillermo Gonzalez has been making foie gras there for 26 years. In the past, he had as many as 30,000 ducks in an orchard.

He's now out of a job, but says he's "not angry. I'm sad. I'm sad and I'm offended."

Offended, he says, because he says people don't understand how foie is made.

He says the feeding mimics the gorging the animals do in the wild before they migrate. They have no gag reflex and can store a lot of food in their esophagus before digesting it.

Renowned Washington, D.C.chef Jose Andres thinks lawmakers have more important things to worry about than a fois gras ban, and said so to "CBS This Morning" co-hosts Charlie Rose and Erica Hill:

"The key to obtain the best results is to take the best care of the animals from day one 'til the last day," Gonzalez says.

The last days are now here for Gonzales and his wife Junny's business. They say the new law forced them to shut down.

Back at his restaurant, Ink, Voltaggio finds the debate hypocritical. He sees little difference between serving foie gras or most beef and chicken.

"I don't know that any animal enjoys the process that it goes through from being out in the field to ending up on someone's plate," Voltaggio says.

Diners in California have only 11 days before this particular duck dish disappears.

To see Ben Tracy's report, click on the video in the player above.

  • Ben Tracy

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