"Are you the foie gras motherfucker?"
Amar Santana received this greeting last week when he answered his cell phone. The caller then immediately hung up.
The owner and chef of Broadway By Amar Santana in Laguna Beach had been getting a string of calls from blocked numbers, yet no one left a voice mail. He decided to hop online and search for "foie gras" on Twitter. There, he clicked on a link to the Hudson Valley Foie Gras website. Hacked by animal-rights activists, it listed the names, addresses, phone numbers and credit-card details of more than 1,200 customers who purchased foie gras between June 2012 and April 2013.
Santana scrolled down and found all of his personal information.
"On 3/18/2013, Amar Santana used his American Express card to buy $955 worth of fresh and frozen foie gras," the site read.
Since then, he has been blasted with phone calls, emails, Tweets, Facebook posts and what he claims are fake one-star Yelp reviews (one woman wrote that she saw three cockroaches and got food poisoning at the lauded restaurant) from those fighting against the production and sale of the French-style fatty duck liver. He says he has no idea how anyone got his cell phone number since he had only given it to a handful of friends and colleagues.
"I feel like my rights were violated," Santana says. "These people are crazy. They protect animals more than they protect people. There can be a person dying on the street and a little cat walking around, and they would take the cat. And they get away with whatever they want."
Last year, a law to ban the sale of foie gras went into effect in California. Activists consider the production of the delicacy to be cruel because the fowl are force-fed corn through a metal tube so their livers become 10 times the natural size.
Broadway By Amar Santana, acclaimed for its take on New American cooking, served a popular pan-roasted foie gras with caramelized apricots, as well as other duck-liver-based dishes.
After the ban, Santana thought he had found a loophole in the law and continued to purchase from upstate New York producer Hudson Valley Foie Gras, the largest such farm in the United States. He started giving foie gras out for "free" to customers who ordered a $55 glass of dessert wine. However, he learned that offering foie gras in connection with any purchase is a violation of the ban. After facing legal threats from animal-rights activists, he declared he would no longer serve the delicacy.
The controversy hasn't affected business, Santana says. As for whether he'll ever serve foie gras at his restaurant again, he says, "We're just gonna wait and see."