MT. HOOD TERRITORY: Nicky USA's Wild About Game 2018
Last month, I had the opportunity to attend one of the Northwest’s premier culinary celebrations - Nicky USA's Wild About Game. Nicky USA, a butchery and purveyor of specialty game and meats in the Pacific Northwest, supplies clients all over the country and launched this popular event 18 years ago. Every fall, they invite chefs, farmers, ranchers, and artisanal producers to feature delicious collaborations in an event which culminates in a friendly and competitive Seattle versus Portland chef cook-off. For me, as a first-time visitor to Oregon, it was also the perfect introduction to some of the region’s best chefs and the talented community from which they source superlative ingredients.
On a gorgeous autumn morning before doors officially opened, I gathered with fellow media on the picturesque grounds of Mt. Hood Oregon Resort, the host hotel. We were warmly greeted by Mark Cockcroft, Nicky USA's Sales & Marketing Director, who shared the history of Nicky USA. “We’re the meat concierge that fulfills everybody’s meat dreams,” he began with a smile.
We learned that the original showcase was an industry-only event, but word-of-mouth made it so popular that it was opened to the public. “Now it’s about half and half,” said Mark. “The public started clamoring for tickets, so first we added 50, then 100, and now we’re up to 325 tickets, which is about the size limit. We still love the intimacy. It’s kind of a peek into the industry, a glimpse behind the stove with the chefs, if you will.” In addition to the chefs competition, Wild About Game features an Artisan Marketplace. “It’s where our vendors come to show what they offer,” continued Mark. “We have about 40 vendors with local artisans that are part of our great food culture here in the Northwest.”
Founder Geoff Latham started out in 1990 as a small operation, first offering local chefs rabbits sold from the trunk of his Ford Escort, and almost 30 years later has expanded to wild game such as boar, elk, venison, partridge, bison, and quail, along with exotic and farm-raised meats, and most recently has partnered with a beekeeper for their own line of Willamette Valley Farmland honey. On our tour, we were educated about Nicky USA’s commitment to quality and fostering loyal relationships with their clients and sources.
A special experience was meeting Bob Stangel and his daughters Marta and Theresa of Stangle Bison Ranch, the source of Nicky Farms grass-fed bison. Bob shared the history of their 6800-acre ranch - “Our family has had a ranch in Enterprise since 1958, but in 1979 we got our first bison, and by 1987, we had sold all the cattle and committed to raising bison as a 100% grass-fed operation.” For the guests, Chef Sara Boam (Stella’s Kitchen in Portland) served a Paleo dish of their bison braised in apple cider and cinnamon and served with pickled apples, cauliflower puree accented with coconut milk, and carrots cooked with orange juice and ghee.
We were also introduced to the title sponsor of Wild About Game, Carter Cutlery, founded by 17th generation Yoshimoto bladesmith Murray Carter, who is world renowned for hand-forged knives. We were able to chat with apprentices Alex and Jamison who shared how each knife is one-of-a-kind work of art and made using traditional Japanese techniques. The lucky winner of the chef’s competition received a $2,000 custom-made chef’s knife.
Food and beverage vendors at Wild About Game included Anderson Ranches, Aurora Elixirs, Bad Granny Hard Cider, Carlton Farms, Carter Cutlery, Cascade Brewing, Case Study Coffee, Chelsea Farms Oysters, Classic Foods, Creekstone Farms, Culture Aromatics, Del Fuego Ironworks, Division Winemaking Co., Gilded Greens, Gilgamesh Brewing, Ground Breaker Brewing, Hestan Cue, House of Spain EVOO, Hudson Valley Foie Gras, Jaz Spirits, La Belle Farms, Maker’s Mark, Manchester Farms, Marshall’s Haute Sauce, Mary’s Chicken, Misty Mt. Mushrooms, Nueske’s, Olympia Provisions, Oregon Beef Council, Painted Hills Natural Beef, Principe Foods, Ranger Chocolate, Salt & Straw, San Pellegrino, Tails & Trotters, Salumi Cured Meats, Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, Townshend’s Distillery, Wayfinder Beer, and Willamette Valley Vineyards.
What makes this event so special is the opportunity to meet some of Oregon’s award-winning chefs along with owners and purveyors.
Sarah and Dirk Marshall create handmade sauces at Marshall’s Haute Sauce and Sarah is the author of Preservation Pantry. For the last three years, Wild About Game has debuted a special-edition chef collaboration sauce, and this year, Haute Sauce collaborated with Chef Bryant Kryck of Portland’s Alto Bajo to create Cherry Bomb Tequila Adobo. Not only was it delicious on Chef Bryant’s dish of al pastor, but fantastic on roast chicken in my kitchen.
Wagshal's carved up their award-winning Montreal-style prime smoked brisket whose preparation takes weeks (dry-aged, cured with red wine, rubbed with a 16-spice secret blend, and smoked).
We chatted with vendors such as La Belle Farms (duck prosciutto and foie gras), Culture Aromatics (dehydrated organic vegetable blends), Aaron Silverman of Tails and Trotters, and Chef AJ Voytko of The Porter Hotel who worked with Hudson Valley Foie Gras for Foieklava with Hudson Valley Foie Gras, hazelnuts, duck confit, and huckleberry gel.
Chef Patrick McKee of Perlot Portland partnered with Classic Foods for tomato-braised elk shoulder and potato gnocchi.
Angela Covington of Manchester Farms Quail fed happy guests quail sausage, spiced quail legs, and “Toad in the Hole” with quail eggs.
Other tasty tables included Olympia Provisions charcuterie, Nueske’s bacon and pimento cheese biscuits, Salumi Artisan Cured Meats, Misty Mountain Mushrooms, lamb tartare from Anderson Ranches, and short rib katsu with Hestan Cue.
Plenty of beverages were sampled, including my latest obsession - Cold Tree Gin with toasted juniper and local honey and Verstovia Spruce Tip Vodka made with Sitka Spruce tree tips poured by Faith Dionne of Jaz Spirits.
No one went thirsty with selections such as Hanny Hard Cider, Townshend’s Distillery, Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, Cascade Brewing, Case Study Coffee, Division Winemaking Co., Ground Breaker Brewing, Wayfinder Beer, and Willamette Valley Vineyards.
And thanks to a Cocktail Showdown, fans of craft libations were happy too.
Congratulations to Judges Choice winner Mitchell Sennewald from Interurban with his “Hell or Highwash” (smoked pork belly fat wash with Maker’s Mark 46, sweet vermouth, Water Ave. espresso, and Raft bitters) and People’s Choice Winner Jason Le of Multnomah Whiskey Library and his "Goin’ Steady.”
Those with a sweet tooth were treated to desserts like Ranger Chocolates and Salt and Straw.
For the main event, the chef’s competition featured four chefs from Portland versus four chefs from Seattle facing off with one of four proteins.
• Sarah Pliner, Aviary, Portland: Roasted Duck Breast with Lychee Chutney, Braised Duck Leg Cabbage Rolls with Fermented Black Bean and Chrysanthemum
• Derek Ronspies, Le Petit Cochon, Seattle: Tobacco-Rubbed Duck Breast with Cocoa Duck Leg Rillette Tortelli, Barley Radicchio Salad, Foie Gras Nage, Pickled Gizzard Vinaigrette, Chicharrone, Cherry Chutney
Winner: Sarah Pliner
Nicky Farms Partridge:
• Peter Cho, Han Oak, Portland: Partridge Hot Pot, Shaved Roulade of Partridge, Game Bird Broth, Brassicas Salad
• Aaron Willis, Ciudad, Seattle: Partridge Porridge, Foraged Mushroom and Black Garlic, Pickled Beets and Berries, Wild Watercress Oil, Charcoal Roasted Bone Broth
Winner: Chef Peter Cho
Maui Nui Wild Hawaiian Venison:
• Chris DiMinno, Trifecta Tavern, Portland: Roasted Leg of Venison, Hoppin' John, Early Fall Vegetables and Greens
• David Nichols, Rider, Seattle: Smoked Hawaiian Venison, Brown Butter Hearts of Palm Soubise, Summer Corn, Blue Elderberry Compote, White Chanterelles, and Green Elderberry Au Jus
Winner: Chef David Nichols
Nicky Farms Rabbit: Chef Alex Barkley of Manolin, Rabbit winner
• Justin Woodward, Castagna, Portland: Braised Rabbit, Fermented Sausage, Sour cream, Bay Capers
• Alex Barkley, Manolin, Seattle: Rabbit Tamal with Black Garlic Mole
Winner: Chef Alex Barkley
Congratulations to Peter Cho who won both the popular vote and the judges’ competition!
Fantastic food and drink, an idyllic setting, and a passionate community - Nicky USA’s Wild About Game is a must-attend event, one I hope to return to next year!
I partnered with Oregon’s Mt. Hood Territory tourism, and you can find more information on the region's activities, dining, lodging, and annual events at Mt. Hood Territory.
Click this link for Part I of my time spent in this beautiful destination with visits to Lake Oswego, Aurora, Canby, and Oregon City.