The founders of one of the only foie gras producers in the US — Caledonia, Minn.-based Au Bon Canard. — is retiring this year.
Christian and Liz Gasset, who started the duck farm about 17 years ago, are moving back to Christian’s native Gascony, France, after their production season ends this spring. The couple are handing over their land and business to a younger neighbor with whom they have long been close, and Christian Gasset said he is training him to take over foie gras production.
Foie gras is made from the livers of ducks that have been fattened by a process known as “gavage”, usually translated as force-feeding, in the last weeks of life. And making foie gras is an extraordinarily specialized skill: Only three companies in the US, including Au Bon Canard, make it. In France, Christian Gasset learned the trade at the only school in the world, he said, that teaches the entire process, from duck to dish.
Of the American foie gras producers, Au Bon Canard is the smallest and most artisanal by orders of magnitude. Unlike more industrialized force-feeding methods, Christian Gasset places each duck on his lap individually and feeds it by hand using a small tube. Every Friday, Liz Gasset herself drives three hours each way to deliver the company’s products to restaurants in the Twin Cities.
Christian Gasset is approaching 60 years old and can’t farm like he used to, he said. He will need knee surgery. He hasn’t lived near his family in decades. A friend’s sudden death from cancer was “a wake-up call” for the Gassets; they have worked hard, and now they need to relax, he said.
“We put a lot of energy into this project,” said Christian Gasset. “And we’ve been successful in our work by staying small and trying to make a quality product. That was our goal from the beginning and we have never changed that. But you have to turn the page.”
In honor of the retirement of Christian and Liz Gasset, Chef Russell Klein is hosting a tribute dinner at Meritage, a longtime partner restaurant of Au Bon Canard. The Gassets will be in attendance, and Klein hopes the evening will convey his and the diners’ gratitude to them.
“For Christian and Liz, they don’t have that many opportunities to see people enjoying their work,” Klein said. “So watching a room full of people enjoying their work is hopefully a nice stepping stone to realizing the impact they’ve had.”
The five-course meal is Wednesday, March 15 at the Meritage in St. Paul, and tickets are $165 per person, with an optional $85 wine pairing to accompany the tasting menu.
Each course – including dessert – will feature duck Au Bon Canard in some way, with a special emphasis, of course, on foie gras. As he regularly does, Klein plans to use every part of the bird: duck consommé with foie gras pelmeni and confit duck heart, duck breast with honey and thyme, poached sturgeon in duck fat.
“Our core philosophy is to buy really good stuff and not mess with it, and Au Bon Canard is really the epitome of that,” Klein said. “I can easily say that Au Bon Canard is the best foie gras in the world and we were incredibly privileged to have it in Minnesota.”
Klein will miss the Gassets in Minnesota, he said, but “now I have someone else to go to in France!”
If you go
What the: Five-course duck dinner to honor Au Bon Canard founders Christian and Liz Gasset, who will be in attendance
When: More sitting hours; Wednesday, March 15. Call 651-222-5670 to make reservations
Where: Meritage: 410 St. Peter St.
Cost: $165 per person; $85 optional wine pairings