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Sunday-afternoon game

(article, Kim Carlson)

You know I relish a good [/mix/challenge/thevegetablechallenge "vegetable challenge" newpage=false]. But last Sunday, it was all about meat. 

Nicky USA is a distributor of sustainably raised meats to Oregon restaurants and specialty markets — everything from pheasant to buffalo to rabbit. This weekend, at a resort on the flanks of Mt. Hood, the company hosted '"Wild a one-day event that was part cook-off, part book-signing, part exhibition, part cooking demonstrations — and on the whole, a lot of fun. 

[%image reference-image float=right width=400 caption="Marlys Connor of Nueske's, taking a break from handing out samples of smoked beef."]

Guests and participants mingled and munched happily through the day, sampling the wares of Nicky USA's hand-picked purveyors. We ate duck foie gras from Hudson Valley, New York, and bites of Strawberry Mountain beef from John Day, Oregon. 

We talked with Jack Czarnecki, who's about to begin marketing an Oregon white-truffle oil, and Marlys Connor from Nueske's, who told us that their smoking method is so top-secret that only one outside person (a client from overseas) has ever been allowed in to observe. "Not even my husband's seen it," she said; he was standing right beside her to verify this.

My personal favorite, though, was from Helena Gonzalez at Artisan Foie Gras, in Sonoma — a family business. She was serving a duck foie gras terrine spread like butter on slices of French bread — her mother's recipe. Alongside Chehalem's INOX Chardonnay, it was a perfectly decadent Sunday-morning snack.

Speaking of terrines, Ben Dyer of Viande Meats and Simpatica demonstrated how to make a pheasant terrine, wrapping it in caul fat. (Stumped? Chow has a good photo of that lacy stuff — not something found in most kitchens, certainly not my own.) While the demonstration was engrossing and the terrine exceptional, it's probably not something I'll try at home; I lack a proper meat grinder, and I don't have a [/columns/bacon/homemadesausage "stand mixer"] I could adapt to the task. Fortunately, Viande carries such terrines regularly.

While the rest of us were snacking and taking in demonstrations, an all-star roster of 10 local chefs were in the kitchen, participating in a cook-off competition. That morning, the chefs (listed here) went into the walk-in one by one, every 10 minutes, and picked a surprise box of meats (buffalo, quail, venison, etc.). 

The chefs then had to cook a dish for the judges — cookbook author Janie Hibler, the Oregonian's Leslie Cole, and Northwest Palate's Cole Danehower — in two hours, using the meat in the box. 

Pascal Chureau, of Lucier won third place for his squab dish; Dustin Clark of Wildwood placed second for his rabbit. The first-place winner was John Gorham of Toro Bravo, who created an elk soup. An hour or two earlier I had happened by the judges' private glassed-in room and saw their pleased reaction as they tasted this particular dish, which, from the chef's description, had multiple levels of flavor. Even though I was perfectly sated with nibbles, I did feel a little jealous.

[%image vitaly float=left width=300 caption='Vitaly Paley reading from his book about cooking elk shoulder with Fergus Henderson at a "Wild About Game" event two years ago.'] 

But I couldn't be too disappointed; I had just been talking with Vitaly Paley about his new cookbook and sampling his silken elk shoulder, a recipe that's featured in the book. While I'd spent most of the day tasting foods that I won't eat much of at home (we just don't eat a lot of meat), The Paley's Place Cookbook feels like a book I'll use again and again. 

Not only does it have photos and stories of some of my favorite farmers' market vendors, including Barb Foulke at Freddy Guys Hazelnuts and Gene Theil of the amazing tubers from Joseph, Oregon, it's also full of recipes I can't wait to try: Dungeness Crab and Corn Chowder, Roast Duck with Cherries, Potato-Mushroom Cake, Tres Leches Cake with Blackberries and Maple-Glazed Almonds. (The luscious photos in the book were taken by John Valls, who also was on hand Sunday and in fact took the photos in this post; chef Robert Reynolds also contributed to the book.)

Our friend [/mix/dinnerguest?author=4899 Nadine] and many others were staying on for the game dinner, but we opted out. As we drove back to Portland, early enough to catch the late-afternoon light on the liquid amber, I fantasized about the next cook-off: A black box of vegetables, two hours, and a roster of all-star local chefs to work their magic. 

I can dream, can't I?

reference-image, l

vitaly, l