Boisdale Life Magazine (Issue 18) - Page 53

raises his head to see what’s up and
drops neatly with a shot high in the
neck. The others make for the horizon.
This moment is always strange. The
world becomes eerily quiet, as though
the other animals know something has
happened. I suffer a mix of emotions:
I’m happy I’ve done the job well and
the deer never even heard the shot, but
I’m sad because the scene was so calm
before I shattered it. But it is a job that
has to be done. The deer population has
never been higher – ever. Fallow deer
are ferocious breeders and when
unchecked do huge damage to crops
and trees. I also tell myself that the
deer suffered the perfect end – no prior
knowledge, no stress, and out like a
light. Surely this is better than an
abattoir? People buying the meat of
animals that have hard, short lives and
bad ends often turn a blind eye to the
realities of how the meat we eat comes
to our table. This is why I love the
honesty of harvesting game and wild
meat and truly believe in its ethics.
I grew up a mere 20 minutes from
where I stand over the deer I have shot.
My parents did not shoot, but my
grandfather did. Sadly I never met him,
Top right: Roast
wood pigeon at the
Woodsman, Stratfordupon-Avon. Below: The
Feasting Room at the
Woodsman;T-bone of
wild fallow deer
but something in my DNA made me seek this out at an early
age. Perhaps the million years of hunter gathering that
humans did before farming came into play was strong in me,
or maybe a sense of adventure, but hunting for food was
something I’ve wanted to do since I was 12. It was hunting
that got me into cooking as a child – rabbit korma was a
teenage favourite. A very kind, retired Army Brigadier in the
village took pity on me and taught me how to shoot, and
nothing was ever the same again.
rofessionally, I have always cooked game. All the
venison for my restaurants and those of several friends’
now comes from my own FSA-accredited deer larder
in the Cotswolds. At Owl Barn Larder we manage deer on
land for farmers and estate owners in Southern Britain who
have problems with their growing deer numbers. Other game
is used as much as possible. Right now at The Woodsman
– my newest venture in Stratford upon Avon – we have
grouse, pigeon, rabbit, hare, and fallow and muntjac deer on
the menu, which my customers are very happy about! You
might think that getting people to eat wild food would be
hard, but when presented in the right way, not too strong or
overhung, and served with a good choice of veg, it sells. At
the Woodsman and the Harwood Arms (our pub in Fulham,
London), 40 per cent of the meat sold is venison, yet it makes
up just 20 per cent of the menu!
For a restaurateur, one of the great things about game is its
justifiability to the public. Most people like the idea of eating
something that has lived a wild and free life – I know I do.
Also, deer is a perfect size: You can buy a whole carcass and
use all of it, making this source of protein much better value
as long as you are creative and flexible with your menus.
Indeed, we have a steady stream of customers who are
ethically vegetarian but relish eating wild harvested meat.
And let’s not forget the health benefits: negligible fat, easy
to digest, and high in protein and essential nutrients.
Walking over to my fallow pricket in the darkening light,
I muse over what I have done. Four hours of work have
resulted in 60 portions of perfect meat for the restaurant.
Millie and Sorrel, my dogs and companions in the wild, are
excited over the tidbits to come, while I plan my menu: grilled
T-bones of wild fallow with bone marrow and green sauce…

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