Saturday, February 18, 2012

Game for game?

As part of my birthday present from almost 3 months ago, I got a choice of a cooking class to attend.  I discover the wide range of cooking classes available in Toronto, ranging from the very affordable TDSB ones, to fairly technical skills oriented ones like the knife skills course offered by The Good Egg, to those with alterier motives such as the various cupid cooking classes.
Not wanting to commit to a series of classes or spending lots of money, I eventually landed on a cooking class at The Market Kitchen at St Lawrence Market that focused on game meat.

I have never been to The Market Kitchen prior. It is set up more as an event space with an open kitchen than a cooking class. It lacks some basic things like mirror over the range for students to see clearly how the cooking progresses, and multiple stations for hands on practice.  Rather than a cooking class, I would consider it more an interactive dinner with cooking demonstration.

The Market Kitchen, St Lawrence Market

The whole evening was quite enjoyable. Our chef was Andrew Chase. He was casual and friendly, although at times seemed a bit frazzled. To keep him organized was our host (whom I forgot to ask for her name), who was very thoughtful. Aside from ensuring the chef had everything he needed, she also made sure the students were able to see all the ingredients up close by walking the containers through the group, and plated several demo dishes for photo opps. The sous chef and kitchen staff are also impeccable, helping the chef with the preparation and serving the food to all students. There was a selection of coffee, sparkling water, and water available throughout the night.

Chef Andrew Chase & staff, The Market Kitchen, St Lawrence Market

What about the food itself? It is a rare experience to be able to try so many different game meat prepared in different styles. During the evening, we get to taste 6 differ game meat.
- Ostrich [sausage]
- Pheasant [sauage]
- Elk [sausage]
- Bison cheeks [stew] with spatzel
- Venison [meatloaf] with buttermilk mashed potatoes
- Camel [stir fry]

Chef Andrew was knowledgeable about techniques in cooking game, and also told interesting stories about the history of the cooking methods.

Most of the game meat is not too "gamey" in taste, but more like lean beef with a rich intense taste. (No, contrary to populat belief, not everything tastes like chicken.) My favourite is the bison cheek stew, with strong wine flavour resulting from the meat being marinated for 5 days. The texture of the bison cheek is not as soft as braised beef cheeks; both has its own character. Spatzel is a simple noodle from the German / Austrian / Swiss area. It is surprisingly fast & easy to make from scratch. Dressed with a butter sauce, it is a good accompaniment to the stew.

bison cheek stew with spatzel

We made the venison meatloaf in small groups and each person took a small tray home to bake on our own.  The recipe does not bind as well as the type of meatloaf I like, so it looks a bit like a loose shepherd's pie. The combination of salted pork rind and venison gave the dish a very rich flavour; definitely a winner for a casual cold winter's night dinner in.

venison meatloaf with buttermilk mashed potatoes

venison meatloaf

The question many people, including myself, with the menu is  ... How does camel taste? As the chef describes, camel meat is like dark Italian veal, with a more gamey taste.

marinated camel meat

The camel was stir fried in the traditional northern Chinese style, with a slightly vinegary sauce. This treatment made the dish rather light to the stomach.

sweet-as-honey stir fry camel

Sidenote: The dish is called 它賽蜜 in Chinese, meaning "it competes with honey". It seems a strange fit as the dish is not sweet in nature. Regardless, it is supposed to help with blood circulation, making it very suitable for keeping warm in the winter.
Game meat is generally more expensive than the staple beef and pork, so it is not likely to become part of my regular diet. It does make for good conversation during special dinner parties, not to mention its leanness that supposedly is healthier (excluding the load of fat that needs to be added during the cooking process).

game dishes

For those looking to try some game meat, you can find them at Whitehouse Meat at St Lawrence Market. They provided the game meat for the class. The owner Leila sat in on the class, and looked rather pleased with the creation that night.

A memorable evening for sure!