Credit: Osteria Savio Volpe
It was dawn, early September 2017, high in the British Columbia alpine when my journey into the world of hunting began in a truly tangible fashion. I was hunting by myself, living out of a backpack, miles from the nearest road, and I had just killed my first deer.
It was a beautiful mule deer, his hide still lustrous in its golden summer coat. This experience marked the culmination of a long journey rooted in food-based memories that could be traced back to my childhood growing up in small town B.C.
Although my family did not hunt themselves, wild game was common table fare. Hunting is a way of life in rural B.C. to this day. Back then, moose burgers, elk chili, and black bear sausages weren’t strange, in fact, they were the norm. The hunting stories told around the dinner table, along with the depth of flavor found in these wild meats made a lasting impression on my young mind.
I started out hunting smaller quarry such as rabbits, eventually accompanying family friends on hunts for larger animals like deer and elk. Although I never personally killed an animal, the memories of others doing so are still vivid. The rich, musky smell of a mule deer taken on a typically cold and dreary November day. Blood-stained hands and the satisfying ache of my nearly frozen body when the work of butchering it in the field was complete. I understood where my food came from, even if I took it for granted at the time.
Fast forward to today. Two decades spent in world class kitchens, both in Canada and Europe, with a three-year stint as a professional butcher has shaped my perspective around food. I’m the Chef Proprietor of two high profile Vancouver restaurants, and one café.
I’m obsessed with using only the highest quality local and seasonal ingredients. Heritage breed animals and produce raised and grown by farmers I have a personal relationship. Wild seafood caught by local fishermen. Wild mushrooms, herbs, and greens foraged from B.C.’s backcountry.
My knowledge of the industrial food system propelled me in my search for the cleanest, healthiest and most ethically sourced protein to feed my growing family. The answer was clear: hunting for wild game. The taking of an animal’s life by my own hands became the next logical step in my evolution as a chef. And I am not alone in this sentiment.
Accepting complete responsibility for the entire process—start to finish—has led to a deep appreciation for the animal and the value of its life. A strange mixture of elation, gratitude, relief, reverence and sadness accompany each successful hunt. This is a common, albeit poorly shared, thread amongst many hunters.
I have been blessed with much success as a hunter and can say with pride that for the past two years, our family has only eaten wild meat. The deep satisfaction that comes from setting a venison roast down in front of your family or friends cannot be overstated.
Living in Vancouver means that the bulk of the people I interact with have little, if any, experience with or connection to any form of hunting. This of course leads to a misunderstanding of what’s involved, and why someone would want to do it in the first place.
As hunters, we’ve done a poor job of sharing—and showing—the many reasons hunting remains an important part of many people’s lifestyles. To be fair, hunting is an extremely complex subject that doesn’t lend itself well to today’s short attention spans, but that shouldn’t stop any of us, hunters and non-hunters alike, from engaging in dialogue so we can better understand each other’s perspectives. I may be biased but, in my opinion there is no better way to begin that dialogue than over a meal.
The stomach is a powerful tool in connecting people’s hearts and minds. Gathering to eat, laugh, and share stories connects us to our shared ancestry as hunter-gatherers. A history that until relatively recently, took place around the warmth, protection, and promise of a full belly that came from wild meat cooking on an open campfire.
If you’re a hunter and reading this, I encourage you to go out of your way to invite non-hunters to a meal of wild game. If you’re a non-hunter seek out these opportunities and take advantage of them when they arise, you won’t be disappointed.
In closing, I’d love to share a recipe for when company is coming over on short notice and you need something that is a quick and easy crowd pleaser. It’s based on the classic French dish Steak au poivre. I’ve used Rocky Mountain Goat, but a loin or rib steak from any type of ungulate will work perfectly. The spiciness of the peppercorns is the perfect foil for the deep flavour of game meat. As with most wild meat cooking, the key is to not overcook. Don’t let the fancy name put you off. This is dead simple and delicious.
ROCKY MOUNTAIN GOAT STEAK AU POIVRE (Serves 2)
- 4 loin steaks Rocky Mountain Goat (can substitute bison or beef) cut 1 inch thick (carefully cleaned of any connective tissue and brought out of fridge 1 hour before cooking)
- 1 tsp each of black, white, pink and green peppercorns
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon oil
- ¼ cup brandy
- ¼ cup meat stock (made from wild game bones if you have them. Substitute beef or chicken stock if needed)
- 1 tablespoon red currant jelly
- ¼ cup whipping cream
- Splash red wine vinegar
- Salt to taste
Season the steaks to taste with salt. Combine and coarsely grind the peppercorns, setting aside a large pinch for the final seasoning of the sauce. Spread the remaining peppercorns on a plate. Press the steaks into the peppercorns ensuring they are evenly coated.
Heat the butter and oil in a heavy frying pan. Pan fry the steaks over medium-high heat, roughly 1 minute per side for medium rare. Remove the steaks and rest in a warm spot while you prepare the sauce.
Add brandy to the pan and flambe to burn off the alcohol. Scrape and shake the pan to deglaze any of the goodness that has attached itself. Add the stock and jelly, reducing it quickly over high heat to a syrupy consistency. Stir in the cream and continue to reduce till the sauce coats the back of a spoon nicely. Add a splash of vinegar to balance out the sweetness of the jelly and season to taste with salt.
Pour the sauce directly over the warm steaks. Serve with your favorite sides. Smashed potatoes or root vegetables with loads of butter and sautéed wild mushrooms go especially well.