Hunting for your dinner sound like a throwback or something that happens in the north woods of Canada somewhere? You may surprised to learn that its a trend that is growing, especially here in the SF Bay area! How much of that is attributable to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s recent revelation that, “The only meat [he is] eating is from animals [he has] killed…” is hard to say. While Zuckerberg was referring to slaughtering his own goats, chickens and pigs in the May 26, 2011 Fortune article, a subsequent report in Gawker quoted him as saying that he has learned to hunt, gotten a license, and shot and killed a bison, which he describes as more “tender and sweeter than beef… [and] lower in fat and cholesterol.” So we thought we’d offer a primer, for those of you who might be thinking about doing something similar, or just want to know how to cook some of those more unusual proteins that are starting to show up in Bay area markets from Kroger’s to Whole Foods.
Dan and Bobbie Jo Wasilko are a traditional husband-and-wife couple: Dan hunts for wild game and Bobbie Jo cooks what he brings home. But unlike the stereotypical hand-off at the pot on the stove, Bobbie Jo will often go into the field with Dan and he will often help Bobbie Jo in the kitchen. Bobbie Jo is a naturally talented chef who began to specialize in preparing wild game shortly after she and Dan were married. Bobbie Jo has taken this passion for cooking wild game and created a personal chef business called Cookin’ Wild™ where she provides multi-course, wild game meals for clients in northern California. In Bobbie Jo’s She Cooks blog, she provides recipes and background information on how best to prepare many different types of wild game and even exotic meats and seafood, while Dan’s He Hunts blog provides tips for hunters. We interviewed Bobbie Jo about what its like to be a chef in this unusual niche.
ANDREA: You are in a pretty unique niche when it comes to private chefs and caterers how do describe what you do? How did you get started?
BOBBIE JO: As transplants to the area we wanted to make friends and thought the best way to do so would be to invite people to dinner to enjoy our wild game. Many of our guests hadn’t ever tried wild game or if they had, it was usually a bad experience, so it was encouraging to know that my methods and recipes won them over to be fans of wild game.
Many of our dinner guests encouraged me to do something in the wild game industry, such as writing a cookbook or opening a restaurant. One dinner, our friend, Dave insisted I prepare and serve a wild game dinner for his boss and guests as a Christmas present from him and his coworkers. I accepted the challenge and created and served a dinner centered on a main course of fig walnut stuffed rack of wild boar. Dave’s boss and his guests loved it! I found the experience to be fun and I enjoyed watching the client’s reaction to trying something new. So the next day I created my “Cookin’ Wild” personal chef business.
ANDREA: It seems like the SF Bay area, with its penchant for exploring new food trends, might be an ideal place for your kind of business. Do you find this to be so? Did you have this in mind when you decided to launch here?
BOBBIE JO: The Bay Area is an ideal place to offer this type of service, with its diverse cultures and ethnicities many types of foods are available and accepted. It was also encouraging that several restaurants in the city and in the wine country have a wild game dish or two on their menus and many have a “wild game week” or event in the autumn which usually sells out in advance. This was a good indicator that a personal chef business based upon wild game would do well here.
ANDREA: How does your business fit with the sustainable and local foods that are at the core of California Cuisine?
BOBBIE JO: There is definitely a movement towards eating locally here in Northern California with each city and suburban town offering one or more farmers markets during the week and with more access to free-range and ethically grown and harvested meats and poultry. Along these lines, when a client of mine or their guest tries and enjoys the wild game I serve, they may be more encouraged to beginning hunting for themselves or be more open to accepting a free duck or piece of venison from their neighbor who does hunt.
Wild game also goes along with the foraging movement. I know plenty of folks who consume only their hunted game, and solely harvest wild plants, herbs, fruits, vegetables, and mushrooms. Bragging rights include not having set foot in a grocery store for any produce or meat in years.
Hunting, foraging, harvesting, and processing everything that comes into the kitchen means food has been in sight at all times. Field to table, field to plate, eat what you hunt, are phrases I use every day, and practice to bring great meals to my clients, and my own table.
ANDREA: How has hunting changed, if at all, over the last several decades?
BOBBIE JO: Many new hunters, especially the twenty and thirty-somethings, are entering this sport with a different attitude than previous generations. Unlike those who were taught to hunt at 12 years old because it was a family or local tradition, these new hunters approach it as a way to be active in acquiring healthy, local foods. They want to experience obtaining their meat with their own hands. The popularity of folks growing their own gardens has also jumped up considerably. Even those who live in urban dwellings with very little space will at the very least, grown some herbs and tomatoes on roof top decks or in pots on balconies.
ANDREA: Who do you think your target audience is? How do you “get the word out” about eating wild game and encourage folks to try it?
BOBBIE JO: For my personal chef business my target audience is anyone with an adventurous nature and who is willing to try wild game and appreciate it’s uniqueness.
To reach a larger audience, my husband and I are launching our own TV show called “He Hunts She Cooks” on Hunt Channel in 2016. Our concept is to show how my husband and I work together to harvest wild game and to create amazing meals with it.
Interestingly, one hundred and fifty years ago, wild game was the main source for dinner. But with urban sprawl and the change toward large scale farms, and animals being over hunted, folks began to turn towards farm raised animals like cows, chickens, and pigs. However, now that wild game is better managed, and their numbers are growing, combined with the new urban/suburban hunters, and the traditionalists, wild game is back! And with the return of wild game brings new cooking methods and influences. Don’t get me wrong, slow cooking a venison roast in a crockpot is great, but using new methods such as sous vide cooking brings wild game to a whole new level, which will appeal to a wider population. My idea it to marry the traditional idea of hunting and harvesting your own food to modern cooking methods to create something everyone can enjoy. We hope to reach a wide audience with our show to inspire couples to work together and to bring back wild game cooking and elevate it for the new millennium.
ANDREA: The hunting industry and lifestyle has recently been under fire for high-profile trophy hunts for exotic or even endangered species. Have you and your husband experienced any push back or controversy, and what is your response to those against it?
BOBBIE JO: Our approach is more mainstream, where I offer wild game dishes based upon plentiful or even herd animals such as deer, elk, wild pig, rabbit, duck, and pheasant. I will offer more exotic meats as well, including alligator and kangaroo, but these are also fully sustainable and are within the normal diet in many parts of the world. Because of health and safety regulations, the game I serve to my clients is documented by the USDA or other international agencies. In some cases the meat is farm raised, but still has the wild genetics. Clients may also provide their own harvested game that I will prepare for them as part of my personal chef service. In regards to hunting game, my husband hunts for the table, as opposed to trophy hunting. Now if he does kill a really nice deer with a large rack of antlers, he’ll certainly make his case for having it mounted, but it’s not usually something he concerns himself with. Especially since older animals aren’t as tender or tasty as younger ones, anyway. The only mounts he has are one black-tail buck and one very big nasty looking wild boar. I can honestly say, I pulled out every trick in my culinary arsenal to tenderize or to improve the flavor of that old boar, but just couldn’t get a great result. So from then on out, if he wants me to prepare it, he must keep it under a certain age and weight. Our trophy is in the plated dish.
6. Most people have never eaten wild game. What are some of the “openers”? Dishes that make it easy for people who might otherwise he hesitant to experiment with a new protein?
BOBBIE JO: If I’m looking to ease a client into trying wild game for the first time, I’ll offer dishes like venison, pheasant, quail, or rabbit. Those animals seem to be the easiest to approach for the uninitiated. As I often do, I invite friends over for dinner to be my guinea pigs to try out new dishes I’m working on to gain their assessment before preparing it for a client. One dinner we invited friends over to try new recipes I was working on. Our friend, J.L. and his wife, Debbie were coming for dinner. I was working on rabbit rillettes and J.L. said his wife hated rabbit. We forged a plan to get her to change her mind. I made an appetizer of mustard cognac braised rabbit rillettes on crostini with sliced pear. We didn’t tell Debbie what it was. After three servings, we decided to spill the beans. She was shocked to know she’d been enjoying the rabbit, and realized that in the proper hands, rabbit is yummy!
For my clients who are hesitant about trying wild game or incorporating it into a menu, I offer them a financial incentive. I always say, “If you’re willing to try my game dishes, and you don’t like it, I’ll deduct it from the bill.” To this date, I’ve never had to remove it from the bill.
RECIPE: Venison Loin Medallions with Black Truffle Foie Gras Pate, Cabernet Venison Sauce
4-6 ounce boneless Venison Loin Medallions (elk, antelope, deer)
1 pkg. (6 ounce) D’Artagnon Black Truffle Foie Gras Pate*
Fresh Ground Pepper
Grape Seed Oil (substitute canola oil, or vegetable oil)
3/4 cup Venison Stock (or beef stock)
1/2 cup Cabernet Wine
1 Shallot, minced
3 Tbs. Butter, divided into 1 Tbs. and 2 Tbs.
2 Tbs. Flour
*extra pate left over
Prep for the venison
24 hours ahead: Season venison loin medallions with kosher salt and refrigerate, overnight.One hour before cooking, bring the medallions to room temperature on the counter. Pre-heat the oven to 350º. Re-season the venison with a bit more kosher salt and fresh ground pepper.Set aside while the sauce is prepared.
To make the Cabernet Sauce
Over medium heat, to a small sauce pot, add the 1 tablespoon butter, and add the minced shallot and sauté for 2 minutes. Add the wine and heat for 4 minutes. Then add the stock and continue to reduce for another 4 minutes. Mix the remaining 2 tablespoons butter, and flour together to make a paste, and whisk into the sauce to thicken. Once the sauce is thickened, turn down the heat to keep warm until the dish is finished.
Heat an oven safe pan (or cast iron), over medium high heat. Add a few tablespoons oil.
Add venison medallions and sear until browned. Turn over and sear the other side until browned, then place in the oven for about 6 minutes. Remove the medallions from the oven and top each with 2 tablespoons (about 1 ounce) black truffle foie gras pate (*reserve the remaining pate for the sauce). Turn off the oven and place the venison back in the oven to heat the pate.
Just before serving, whisk in any leftover pate to the red wine sauce. Serve with sides of your choice.
“I served this dish with yukon gold potatoes that were first boiled whole and unpeeled until tender, shocked in cold water, drained, then sliced and sautéed in butter, garlic powder, onion powder, salt and pepper.
The trumpet mushrooms were sliced and sautéed along with the potatoes.
The carrots were braised in a frying pan with 3/4 cup water, a tablespoon sugar, 2 tablespoons butter, salt and pepper. They were cooked at a medium simmer for 20 minutes, until all the water was evaporated, and turned into a caramelized glaze.
The potatoes can be boiled the day ahead and refrigerated overnight, then sliced and sautéed just before serving, as well as the mushrooms.
The carrots can be started 20 minutes ahead of serving time to simmer while the venison is cooked.”
By Bobbie Jo Wasilko