When featuring game meats, club chefs showcase their culinary bandwidth.
Wild game, like bison, venison, boar and pheasant, are still largely niche proteins. But as club chefs expand the member dining experience, they’re slowly finding their way onto club menus.
“When you feature wild game on your menu, you elevate your entire offering,” says Shaun Lewis, Executive Chef and Director of Food & Beverage at Liberty National Golf Club in Jersey City, N.J. “Everyone has foie gras, beef and chicken. But not everyone has wild boar.”
At Liberty National, where menus change weekly, Lewis features game primarily as a special during the cooler fall months, as well as within the context of a wine dinner or scotch-and-game pairing,
“Members are more receptive to wild game when we pair it with a sweeter seasonal component, like venison with blackberries,” says Lewis, who relies on sous vide to prepare wild proteins to the exact degree of doneness. “I think that’s one of the challenges with wild game. If you don’t get to the right temperature, it can turn rubbery.”
Lewis, who has menued everything from quail and pheasant to elk, ostrich, and boar, serves game slightly rare and tries to keep dishes simple so that the protein is truly the star of the plate. Some of his most successful game dishes are foie gras-stuffed pheasant, herb-roasted wild boar, and venison infused with juniper and thyme.
David Wohrle, Executive Chef of Roaring Gap (N.C.) Club, takes a similar approach, relying on sous vide to prepare game proteins like wild boar, venison, elk and rabbit.
“We make a lot of infused oils that we like to use during sous vide,” says Wohrle, whose club has 280 member families. “I’ll sear venison, for example, then cryovac-it with an oil made with juniper, lavender and orange peel, and cook it sous vide at 131° for 2 hours.”
When finished, the venison is perfectly cooked and highly aromatic.
“We want the protein to be the star of the plate, so we’ll serve it with dirty grits or a fresh handmade pasta,” says Wohrle.
Some of Wohrle’s favorite applications include wild boar ravioli, duck confit, and rabbit wrapped in pancetta and served with white bean cannellini.
“When we’re cooking for our members, we have to be creative, and game meats are great for doing something different and unexpected,” says Wohrle.
Dustin Ward, Chef de Cuisine of BLT Miami at the Trump National Doral (Fla.) Resort, is also a big fan of game meats and menus them in a number of applications. His current favorite is venison carpaccio with pickled mushrooms, sourdough crisp and tarragon pesto.
“Game meats tend to have a strong flavor, so you have to be careful to choose other components that don’t overpower or compete with the protein,” says Ward, who is an avid hunter. “We like to soak the protein in beer or whiskey, to break down the gaminess.”
To educate servers, Ward holds impromptu cooking classes where he demonstrates how he prepares the game, and allows the servers to taste the finished dish. “For my staff to sell it, I have to sell them,” he says.
Ken Alston, CEC, Executive Chef of Austin (Minn.) Country Club, likes to feature game as one of the club’s ever-changing specials.
“You don’t want to disguise it,” says Alston. “Especially if your members aren’t familiar with the taste. Keep it regional, too. If I have a pheasant from South Dakota, I’ll serve it with a wild rice from Minnesota.”
Alston’s favorite application to date was a wild boar chop with quince and whole-grain mustard.
At The Resort at Longboat Key (Fla.) Club, Executive Chef Ed Geyfman menus everything from elk and bison to duck and pheasant.
“Elk is always a popular choice because it’s lean and flavorful,” he says. “Bison, too, because it’s high in protein and sought-after as a ‘healthy’ alternative to beef.”
Elk chops and bison tenderloins are two top sellers at Longboat Key. To prepare them, Geyfman relies on brining, much like Trump National’s Ward.
“Game meats are less fatty, so the cooking time varies from traditional cuts of meat,” says Geyfman. “But it’s important to brine them, to obtain the best flavor.”