JODI HELMER IS A NOR TH CAROLINA-BASED FOOD WRITER WHOSE WORK HAS APPEARED IN
HEMISPHERES, NA TIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELER, FARM LIFE AND AMERICAN WAY, AMONG OTHERS.
introducing the public to the flavor of true game,” Blondin says.
“If we did, I think most would send it back because the flavor was
too strong. The flavors of farm-raised game are a lot milder.”
The unique flavors can present challenges. Restaurants
serving dishes such as elk tenderloin and water buffalo burgers
will field lots of questions about the flavors of these alternative
“No one wakes up in the morning and says, ‘I’m in the
mood for roasted elk,’” says Boulos. “We train our servers to
play up the uniqueness of the dishes to get our guests excited
about trying game.”
To make sure that staff at Sammy’s Wild Game Grill can
explain the difference between the flavors of venison and buffalo
meat, Ballarin schedules regular tastings and requires staff to
learn about the source, flavor and nutritional value of all the
Also, “We spend a lot of time educating our guests,” he says.
Once all their questions are answered and guests take the first
bite of game meat, most are instant and enthusiastic fans.
Boulos says game is underutilized in restaurants. “It sets
us apart. A lot of regulars ask us when our game dishes are
The unique flavors are one of the biggest draws—
and biggest drawbacks—to featuring alternative
red meats on the menu. Nicky USA spends a lot of
time educating chefs about cooking with game and
the benefits of incorporating the niche protein into
their menus. The annual Wild About Game cooking
competition and artisan marketplace, held each
October, showcases creative recipes and also connects
chefs with farmers, butchers and purveyors of game meats.
“Chefs who put game on the menu do a lot of research before
taking the leap,” Latham says.
Chefs unfamiliar with alternative red meats will need to
learn about their flavors and how to best prepare different
cuts. Boulos believes that more expensive cuts should be pan-
seared, roasted or grilled and served medium-rare to preserve
their flavor and tenderness; lesser cuts can be braised or added
to soup, stew or chili. The Refectory also uses game in pâtés,
terrines and sauces.
Despite the name, not all game meats have a strong, gamy
taste. Water buffalo, kangaroo, antelope and other venison
have stronger flavors, while bison and yak are milder and more
comparable to beef. Younger farm-raised animals have a milder
flavor than older wild (and hunted) animals, according to Blondin.
USDA regulations prohibit chefs from preparing hunted
wild game in restaurant kitchens; instead, they must seek out
sources that sell USDA-inspected game meats. In an effort to
preserve the natural flavor of game animals, Broken Arrow
Ranch sources meats from 100 different ranches where venison,
antelope and wild boar free-range on more than a million acres,
offering a “wild” alternative to farm-raised game.
Guests who have tried hunted game meats might be surprised
at the taste of game dishes served in restaurants. “We’re not really