Life is sweet when you’re a high-profile chef/restaurateur like Wolfgang Puck. But it can’t be much fun when you are singled out by animal rights group Farm Sanctuary as he was. The website www.wolfgangpuckcruelty.com was just a nuisance, but the protest staged in front of one of his restaurants—Spago– must have been pretty annoying. We don’t know if his guests noticed much of this anti-Puck campaign, but it sure got Puck’s attention.
So much so that last week Puck and his Wolfgang Puck Companies announced that they were rolling out a first-of-its-kind animal welfare program in all their ventures, including the 14 full-service restaurants that comprise his fine dining group and his 80 Wolfgang Puck Gourmet Express fast casual units.
“Our guests want to know the meals they eat in my restaurants are made with fresh, natural, organic ingredients,” Puck said. “They want to know where the produce comes from and how the animals are raised. In short, they want to eat healthy food in good conscience, and they know that we can make healthy taste delicious.”
Puck’s giving a lot more than lip service to this initiative. Here’s the part of the lengthy PR release that describes the steps his company is going to take.
“A key initiative of Wolfgang’s all-natural and organic evolution is a comprehensive, first-of-its-kind
humane farm animal treatment program created in partnership with the Humane Society of the
United States (HSUS) and with advice from Farm Sanctuary,” the company’s statement said. “This historic nine-point program aims to stop the worst practices associated with factory farming, and positions the Wolfgang Puck Companies as the first food establishments in full compliance with all of the HSUS’ progressive recommendations. In the next few months, Wolfgang Puck Companies and dining venues will:
1. Only use and serve eggs from cage-free hens not confined to battery cages.
2. Only serve all-natural or organic crate-free pork. Crates prevent pigs from turning around.
3. Only serve all-natural or organic crate-free veal. Crates prevent calves from turning or walking.
4. Only serve certified sustainable seafood.
5. Eliminate foie gras from its menus. Force feeding swells ducks’ livers up to 10 times their normal size.
6. Only serve all-natural or organic chicken and turkey meat from farms that are compliant with progressive animal welfare standards.
7. Continue to feature and expand certified organic selections on all menus.
8. Continue to offer and expand vegetarian selections on all menus.
9. Send a letter to suppliers regarding methods of poultry slaughter that involve less suffering.”
Boy, it’s going to be a hectic time in the purchasing departments across the Puck organization as they try to put these restrictions into place. But the Puck people note that their company has “led the industry” in purchasing fresh, seasonal, all-natural and organic ingredients for more than two decades. That may well be the case, since a key aspect of the chef’s “California Cuisine” was introducing ingredients of this ilk into mainstream restaurant cooking. But like any other operator, not every ingredient used in the kitchen met this standard.
They will now. “Given changing times and increased product availability, the Wolfgang Puck companies now commit to sourcing and celebrating only (emphasis added) those farmers and purveyors who have passed company and third-party audits supporting the humane treatment of animals. In addition to farm animals, the companies will make every effort to shift the majority of all food ingredients beyond meat and fish to all-natural.” You can’t make a more definitive statement than this.
Puck told the New York Times that small price increases would result on some of the items his restaurants serve, a statement that may seem highly optimistic to other full-service operators. But at least those operators can thank him for taking the heat on the issue.
Back at Farm Sanctuary, Puck’s online tormentors at www.wolfgangpuckcruelty.com have changed their URL to www.wolfgangpuckvictory.com in response. Now that Puck has gotten in line, they’ve identified two other celebrity chefs whose names they plan to drag through the mud: Emeril Lagasse, taken to task for airing an all-foie-gras episode of his Emeril Live TV show last September, and Todd English, who testified against the Massachusetts Foie Gras bill in the Massachusetts state legislature. Here’s their advice on how activists should to go after these chefs and others who sell, in this case, foie gras:
“If a restaurant or store sells foie gras and refuses to remove the item, organize a demonstration with other compassionate citizens in front of their establishment. You can obtain materials by contacting Farm Sanctuary. Please also contact email@example.com, and we will add the name of the establishment to our web page of establishments that serve foie gras to encourage others to contact them as well.” It’s a target-rich environment, and the Farm Sanctuary people have even put the hit on a magazine, the Rosengarten Report, for writing an article that promotes foie gras.
Whether or not a protest group targets your full-service restaurant for action, you want to keep your eye on Puck. He’s usually been right in his decisions about what the dining public will go for. If he’s on target about customers wanting healthy fare and counting on restaurants to make it taste good, you’ll know it’s time to make adjustments at your place, as well.
Among the first to do so, surprisingly, is QSR chain Burger King. Earlier this week, the chain pledged to buy eggs and pork only from suppliers that do not keep their animals in cages or crates.
Following Puck has never been a bad idea for any restaurant; he may be leading the way again on the healthy dining trend, too.