For those of us who aren’t hunters or doomsday preppers, cooking wild game has potential for intimidation. TLP hunted for the perfect chef to make this daunting task more approachable. Cue Bob Waggoner. The former chef of Nashville’s The Wild Boar may have departed from the restaurant world, but he didn’t step out of the kitchen. Chef Waggoner now teaches hungry learners of all skill levels at his own cooking school, In The Kitchen. We asked him to share some of his stories from working with game meat and tips for novice cooks working outside of their comfort zone.
TLP: From your experience at The Wild Boar, which game made for the most popular dishes?
Venison was always real big. We had wild rabbit, wild hare was really cool too. And of course we had wild boar because people came in expecting it. Back then it was even easier to get things like wild grouse and woodcock from Scotland. You could buy those birds and they’d still have the shot in them. I remember getting some at the Charleston Grill, but the United States got tougher on what was coming in, how it was shot, and all those fun things. In France, you can go to Bi-Lo and there will be wild rabbit and wild pheasant with all the feathers on them.
TLP: Where’s the best place for buying game meats in the US?
Find a local hunter that wants to hook you up. I get them in every night. One thing good about me and cooking classes is I’m not tied with DHEC. People come in, they pay, they cook what they eat, then they go home so it’s not like a restaurant. I tell them,
“Shoot a deer, bring him in. We’ll cook that.” … There are a lot of duck hunters too who just don’t know what to do with it. It’d be really fun just to do a wild game class. Let’s bring in some venison loin, bring in some duck breasts. All those guys love to go shoot, but nobody knows what to do with the stuff.
TLP: Were they any dishes people didn’t go for, were perhaps intimidated by?
Most people were pretty out there. They’d be willing to try different things. There’s one really neat dish called ortolan you can get in France. I tried to get them here, but they’re ridiculously against the law, even in France… I’ve probably only met 20 guys in my life who can say “oh my gosh, I was able to eat that one night, to be part of it.” I was lucky enough to be working for room and board with a lot of high end chefs that wanted me to experience stuff because I wasn’t getting paid and they knew I’d get a kick out of it.
TLP: Did you grow up eating game meats yourself?
Forget it, are you kidding? I grew up in the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles. My mom overcooked canned green beans.
TLP: As a teacher, do you have any tips of tricks for people who have never worked with game meats before?
One thing that I tell a lot of people, even young cooks, is to buy cookbooks from good chefs. There are a lot of good recipes out there. But a lot of recipes marinate things, and I never do that. I never marinate anything. Even if it’s wild hare, I want the taste of that wild hare. I don’t want to taste the red wine marinade that’s been in there for two days. Even with venison, all of that stuff is really good; just cook it as simply as possible. You can make a red wine sauce that goes with it … I want the true taste of meat. Especially when it’s as delicate as a bird or wild pigeon or wild quail and things like that.
Cook Wild Game Like a Pro