Ariane Daguin & George Faison
Jim Poris - October 2002
Food Arts presents the October 2002 Silver Spoon Award for sterling performance to Ariane Daguin and George Faison, co-founders/co-owners of Newark, New Jersey—based D'Artagnan, the fresh game/foie gras company, that transported American chefs through the European looking glass. Since 1984, when Daguin and Faison started the company named for Alexandre Dumas' heroic musketeer, they've shepherded obscure products once available only from tins or the neglected reaches of meat purveyors' freezers to near ubiquity in restaurants with grand aspirations.
Expanding on a friendship sown in the international dormitory at Columbia University and nurtured during the five years they worked for the pâté producer Les Trois Petits Cochons in Manhattan, Daguin, the French daughter of André Daguin, the king of Gascon chefs, and Faison, an outdoorsy, business-sharp Texan with a big taste for fine food, leapt at the opportunity offered by a Hudson Valley farmer to be the purveyor of his fresh duck foie gras, the first in America. "This was historical; I had to be a part of it," says Daguin, who's steeped in the duck lore of her homeland.
"From the start, we never saw ourselves as just a foie gras supplier," she continues, "but as a supplier of moulard ducks. That's why we started smoking or making prosciutto from the breast [magret], doing confit with the legs and gizzards, and making pâtés. We do the same today with our Australian lamb, convincing bistros to take the foreshanks and shoulders, making our own merguez sausage. This way, we help the farmer sell the whole animal."
"We grew," Faison says, "because we gave the chefs fresh ingredients of great quality, and they turned out masterpieces. The press picked up on it with enthusiastic reviews, and then the curious tasted these things and said, 'Wow!' Eventually others came in to try them."
Now, at the duo's own D'Artagnan, The Rotisserie in Manhattan, diners can sample no-holds-barred Gascon cooking that should be washed down with a stomach-settling trou Gascon, a shot of white Armagnac. The two also have expanded D'Artagnan's product line to include fresh and dried wild mushrooms, spices, and herbs, and its free-range chickens, game, and prepared foods are increasingly available in grocery stores and specialty shops.
What's next? As with vegetables, Faison sees "heirloom" meat on the horizon. "I see ranchers shooting for appellations, like in France, based on fixed criteria," he says. "And I see them processing their own meats. You're going to see livestock raised for flavor, accroding to the nuances of the breed and the geography of their provenance. Now that everyone's sold on fresh, it's very much a quest for differences."
And if Faison's prophecy comes true, he and Daguin will, as usual, serve as advocates for the producers, finding suitable—and profitable—outlets for their efforts. "We could be selling ties, or shoes, or commodity beef, and we'd be a whole lot richer," says Daguin. "But that wouldn't be any fun or give us the proud feeling that we've contributed something to gastronomy in America."