Posted March 3, 2005: Four heirloom-breed chickens traveled
from Illinois to California to help a restaurant explore
the possibilities of including heirloom fowl on the
Ed Hart, Bulletin editor for the Society for the Preservation
of Poultry Antiquities, shipped a Madagascar Game rooster
and hen, a Dorking rooster and a LaFleche rooster to
Chez Panisse restaurant last summer.
Chez Panisse, established in 1971 by Alice Waters,
is one of the most influential restaurants in the country.
Critics say that her emphasis on fresh, local ingredients
helped change American fine dining by using only meat
and produce grown by local organic farmers.
According to its web site description, “Alice
and Chez Panisse have become convinced that the best-tasting
food is organically grown and harvested in ways that
are ecologically sound, by people who are taking care
of the land for future generations. The quest for such
ingredients has largely determined the restaurant's
In that quest, public relations director Sue Moore
located SPPA and contacted Mr. Hart, who shipped the
selection of chickens.
“Everyone was really thrilled when they arrived,”
she said. “They were crowing. Everyone came in
to look at them.”
After two weeks to settle down, they were processed
at the restaurant for a taste test.
Chef Cal Peternell split each one in half, roasting
one half and poaching the other. He added only salt
“We wanted to see what the meat tasted like,
with no competing flavors,” he said.
The restaurant staff who tasted the results found them
very different from usual chicken. The French chef especially
liked the Games.
“We certainly were impressed by how different
they were from the chickens we are used to,” he
said. “They had a gamier flavor.”
Because of the differences in size between the large
Dorking and the small Games, he wasn’t satisfied
with the cooking techniques. The legs needed longer
and slower cooking than the breasts.
“It’s hard to cook four different chickens
in two ways,” he said.
In the end, Peternell decided not to pursue heirloom
breeds at this time because of the difficulties in obtaining
a regular commercial supply.
“We haven’t closed the door on it, but
we haven’t decided to go ahead with it,”
he said. “It was an interesting adventure for
us. The Dorking was quite good.”