Foie gras street fight

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At 5:15 yesterday a large white truck pulled up in the loading zone across the street from Cyrano's Bistrot on Wells. Each panel of the vehicle's rear was outfitted with LED displays and video screens showing lurid images of damaged ducks set to a soundtrack of mournful orchestral music.

Within minutes a patrolman told the driver, Steve Hindi of Elburn, to move it down the block to the other side of the street--not exactly prime position to demotivate the swells arriving for the third Chicago Chefs for Choice fund-raiser for the Campaign to Repeal the Foie Gras Ban, but the stage was set for a showdown between Cyrano's chef Didier Durand and the activists, who represented a couple of anti-foie organizations.

Hindi is a former hunter who, after witnessing a particularly harrowing pigeon shoot, switched sides. "Now we aim our cameras at animal abusers," he said. He's a personable fellow who crawled under the truck to retrieve my pen, but his rhetorical style has a jarring way of mixing aggressive and exalted metaphors. "The images and sounds of the SHARK's Tiger Video Truck are hitting people on the streets of North American cities like a compassionate sledgehammer!" says his group's Web site. Ouch!

Earlier in the day there was a demonstration at Bin 36, so only a handful of protestors showed up in the gelid night. One of them was Brian Pease, a San Diego attorney representing the Animal Protection and Rescue League, who for some reason has filed a lawsuit in Cook County against California producer Sonoma Foie Gras. (More on that later, I hope.)

Also present was a camera crew from French network TF1, in town to film all the hoo ha. After a short confab in the restaurant's lobby--Durand translating in machine gun-Francais--the combatants stepped onto Wells, Hindi's truck in the background. The chef, his toque perched jauntily atop his head and his whites festooned with "Quack if You Like Foie Gras!" buttons, faced off against the less spiffy Hindi. Within moments a car pulled up and out jumped the dapper, overcoated 49th Ward Aldermanic candidate Don Gordon, who started going at it with the equally presentable Pease (sharp black shirt, suit, tie). The result was a frenetic word salad that I suspect French audiences won't get much from, but which I'm sure both sides were satisfied with--no such thing as bad publicity. After a few minutes, the cold seemed to sap everyone's strength and Durand and Gordon took their leave. Pease bade them goodnight, addressing Gordon as "Alderman."

"Not yet," he replied testily, adding, "All that financial support you're throwing at Moore--a lot of the people in the community see through that." (Gordon's campaign, by the way, is a beneficary of the fundraisers.)

Durand has one more fund-raiser scheduled for February 25 for which he's threatened to mobilize all the chefs and restaurants that have participated so far. Says Durand in an e-mail, "It might be Mai 1968 when French People went down the street!"

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