Celebrating the deerly departed

Fall feasts
By LEISCHEN STELTER  |  October 24, 2007
GUN UP! Living-room deerstalking.

Dressed in camouflage and toting hunter-orange cans of Miller High Life, a group of Portlanders gathered recently to celebrate the impending opening of deer season in fairly unusual fashion. There may have been two dead deer at the center of attention, but the only hunting going on involved a bright-orange pump-action rifle and Big Buck Hunter, a rented arcade game.

Welcome to “Deer Deathmatch,” 16 courses of venison dishes prepared by 14 local chefs and attended by more than 60 guests, a follow-up to “Foie Gras Deathmatch,” held in August, both at the Portland home of Joe Ricchio and Jon Dietz. (Also see “Pigging Out, Chef-Style,” by Lindsay Sterling, September 28).

“We were trying to do something that could be bigger than the foie gras match,” says Ricchio. “I was at a pig roast and we jokingly started talking about doing a whole deer, so I decided to do it. I like to do everything way too much and take everything way too far,” he said.

And Ricchio — wine salesman by day, comedian by passion — wasn’t kidding. Everything was big: magnum-size bottles of wine; six-pound loaves of bread; a page-long menu of everything deer; even Ricchio himself.

And the deer chosen for this extravaganza weren’t your every day, dead-on-the-side-of-the-road deer. Ricchio and four others went to Applegate Deer Farm in Shapleigh, which raises European red deer, and brought back the two true stars of this event: does Eva and Ilsa. The group helped kill, butcher, and distribute the deer meat to participating chefs for their various courses.

Krista Kern, the chef and owner of Bresca, who also participated in the foie gras event, describes the deathmatch as an “endurance challenge” more than a competitive, Top Chef-type event. “It’s a chance to see other people’s styles,” she says. “There’s a sense of community, not competition here.” Kern, for example, collaborated with Erik Desjarlais, formerly of Bandol, on their course of terrine of head and shanks.

The result was an ambitious menu including venison carpaccio and burgers, deer-heart Reuben sandwiches, braised skirt risotto cakes, and Jägermeister-marinated livers. As the courses kept coming throughout the night, it quickly became apparent why, indeed, this was a deathmatch: Only the strong survived the full menu.

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