Monday, March 8, 2010

game on...

Almost ten years ago I was asked to prepare a venison dinner for the Branchville Business Men’s Club to be held at a local fire house. I was told that it was a traditional Venison Dinner. The club members did the hunting, they had lined up a butcher and they needed someone to do the cooking for 100 men. The man who had done the cooking for many years was retiring. Well, I jumped at the chance. There were, however, a few bumps in the road. First of all, I had never been to a “traditional” venison dinner, but I figured that was easy enough to work out and as you know I was going to put my spin on it anyway. Second and more importantly, my kitchen at the time was tiny (actually 12 foot square) with barely enough space to accommodate the needs of the restaurant. I didn’t have pots for 100 portions, most times I prepared 1/5 that amount.
Using my automobile as a make shift fridge, creatively writing a menu and cooking in batches, sub contracting some items to a local smokehouse and utilizing space at a friend's restaurant allowed me to some how pull off the feast. The firemen and their wives (the only women in attendance) helped with service and cleanup and aside from a few comments about my “spin” the evening was a huge success and I have been asked back every year since.
Each year seems to get a little easier and a little better, though not without a hiccup or two, like the year I stored the braised cabbage in the dining room managers Blazer; she couldn’t get the smell out for weeks. Or the year the butcher ground more than half of the meat. There are only so many ways to fancy that up. And it seems to snow every year which adds a little drama. But, it is a rain or shine event. The preparations have been made, the show must go on.
So every year I tweak a little bit. But these guys are old timers and certain things cannot be touched. There is never enough jerky, There had better be stew, or as they like to call it ragu, and they want the meat COOKED. They do not want their venison mooing! I don’t know about you, but even a well made stew has never been the highlight of my day. Rare to medium rare venison is the way to go and I have never heard a deer say “moo”. I will agree there never can be enough jerky. But, anyway, they built me a box and I am very happy to play in that box once a year.

I have however always wanted to build my own box and see what it would feel like to play there, a box where I could make the rules. Well, I have the box but, sadly no toys. The much needed main ingredient is not readily available to a kid with no shotgun or bow and arrow.

Enter our hero, a new friend and Black Belt from my son’s karate dojo. A bad ass with a weapon that doesn’t mind it rare, as long as it’s not to gamy. Can’t you just hear Anthony Bourdain reading that last sentence? We started talking over a year ago about doing our own dinner at the restaurant. With life constantly getting in the way it’s easy for things like this to become something that you talk about but never do. But, the planets aliened. So with some encouragement from mutual friends we agreed on a date and set the wheels in motion.

It would be a fund raiser for the dojo. He would hunt, I would cook; my little box was coming together. A few weeks before hand we got together for a meeting to discuss details and he said they had decided to donate the money to the Red Cross for relief to Haiti instead of buying new equipment. I love generous souls and I said that I thought it was a great idea and at the same time reiterated to him that my own, selfish motivation for the whole event was to get together, meet some likeminded people, cook, eat, and drink.
So the mutual friends became kitchen help for the day. The menu was not limited to venison; it included sushi, wild mushrooms, duck and boar (one plain chicken) and ice cream sundaes for dessert. The meet new people thing didn’t work out; I spent most of my time in the kitchen. I didn’t get a chance to eat much. But, there are always leftovers. As for the cooking and drinkin? As it can sometimes happen, I did a little too much of both. Next year, and yes, there will be a next year; the kitchen help will take a greater role in menu writing and final execution. And I will try to drink a bit more water. I might even cut a hole in my box.

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