Going Field To Table
MRCA’s own Chef Cam says doing the job start to finish is a goal he’s had for a long time. He discovers there's a lot he had to learn about hunters and hunting.
As a chef I’ve always been an advocate of nose-to-tail cooking, but I needed to take it a step further. I needed to sacrifice an animal and be a part of the process; not just have it delivered to my restaurant ready for me to break it down. I wanted to pick up a gun, embrace the outdoors and hunt for my dinner.
Until recently, this is not something I would have considered. But I think it’s a maturity thing, a kind of “coming of age” moment. Something just clicked and now it made sense to me to start the job and finish it.
Turns out it wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be.
First off, in my part of Canada – the Province of Alberta – you are required to take a conservation and hunter training coarse in order to get your first hunting licence. I thought it would be something of a joke, but in the end it was quite the learning experience.
Part of the course educates you about animal conservation, so it’s not just blowing away everything you see. It’s about developing an understanding of the animals’ lifecycle and why we hunt, not only for food.
I also took a firearms safety coarse as I am planning on buying guns in the future. Once again, this was really amazing. I didn’t think I would need technical training – you point the gun and pull the trigger, right? But I now know that without training I could accidentally shoot myself or someone else. Shit got real.
The deal is that before setting out on this journey I never really looked at a gun as a tool. It was always a weapon… like on TV or in a video game. But things have changed for me. The way hunters handle their guns with respect for themselves and others is an art itself.
In case you haven’t guessed it already, I’m a city boy. I always secretly thought hunters were mostly redneck types with few morals or ethics who would shoot anything that moved. This was a huge misunderstanding on my part. Not only was I a little wrong, I was waaaaaayyyy wrong!
Like anything, there’s the odd asshole out there, but the hunters I connected with not only respect the animals and land they hunt on, but they actively preach conservation and the restoration of natural habitat.
One of the first things I learned is this: if you don’t have a good shot, don’t shoot. There will be another opportunity and there is no need to unnecessarily harm an animal or someone else.
Someone who is easy prey is called a “sitting duck”. That saying actually makes much more sense to me now. You DON’T shoot at ducks sitting on the water because it’s too easy. That makes it unethical. You always give the animal a fighting chance.
With my training and license in place, my first hunt came as part of an Alberta Culinary Tourism Alliance event in Taber. It’s a town a couple of hours south of Calgary that was holding its 5th annual Pheasant Festival. I was brought down to show people how to properly prepare and cook a pheasant instead of just roasting it to dried-out shit, which is all too common when people cook any wild game.
The hunt was amazing. It was a beautiful fall day spent walking the fields and enjoying the outdoors with my fellow hunters, who were all local landowners and experienced outdoorsmen. They were generous with their knowledge and the camaraderie was pretty cool.
As we hunted, they told me a lot about the land, and what to look for. I also learned about their mission to help restore local habitat and help bring back the abundance of wild game this corner of the world was known for.
The hunt took place on a brush-covered field near some water. I was with two avid hunters, Manuel from Toronto and his dog Benni, and Vance, an old-timer from the Taber area. Chef Darren MacLean from the soon-to-open Shokunin @ShokuninYYC
in Calgary was also part of the crew.
Manuel was the first to bag a bird, a Hungarian (AKA Gray) Partridge. These little bastards just explode from the brush and you have to be fast to take one down.
I was up next. With two partridges exploding to my left I aimed my over/under shotgun and let fly. The first shot missed, but I held my aim and the next barrel took one of the birds down. Awesome and exhilarating is how I would describe the experience.
Benni, our canine sidekick, retrieved the bird. Having a good dog on a hunt like this is essential. Benni would flush hidden birds for us and then find them in the thick brush when they were downed.
Vance took our last bird, a Ring-necked Pheasant, which they had been releasing for the Taber hunt, but also hoping to establish a sustainable wild population. Pheasants were first to Alberta in 1908 by European settlers and have been a tradition ever since. They are beautiful birds and tasty as well.
The next day we paid homage to the animals that gave their lives for us, utilizing every part of the animal in a feast of wild game. Partridge is a darker meat, full of flavour with some gaminess to it, but it is delicious. Pheasant is milder compared to the partridge, but just as tasty nonetheless.
My first experience taking an animal from field to table was very satisfying. Sure, some may see hunting as savage and upsetting, but it made me even more aware that the general public doesn’t really understand how meat gets to the table. There’s a real disconnect and I think people need to be more fully conscious of what they’re eating and why.
If you are not ready for the full meal deal and hunting isn’t your jam, no worries. But if you feel it is, I recommend going through the necessary steps to do it properly. I guarantee it will open your mind!