Smoking is back – food that is. And so is wild game. Local chef Mark LaBrooy has been hunting deer 6.5hrs southwest of Byron, has made a short film about it, and is hosting a workshop where you can learn how to smoke wild venison.
Mark LaBrooy is a spearfisherman, hunter, surfer, heli-boarder, and chef and co-owner of the Three Blue Ducks. He and his five mates have opened four restaurants in Bronte, Rosebery, Brisbane and Byron.
After a recent trip to Sweden, Mark saw firsthand the hunting culture that is widely practised throughout Scandinavia. There, locals hunt moose and reindeer to make smallgoods, aged prime cuts and tanned hides. In particular, Mark was struck by the reverence that the hunters show to the animals, killing only what they need to feed their families.
Deer have proliferated to the point of being vermin and cause significant damage to the native environment. Mark says that the current practice of the Department of Primary Industries is to cull these animals using helicopters and ground-based shooters, costing the taxpayer hundreds of thousands of dollars. The saddest part of this is that the carcasses are simply left discarded on the ground, creating a situation in which there is senseless loss of life. In a country where different areas experience food shortages, these animals are being thoughtlessly culled. The more that Mark learned about this issue, the more he became motivated to do something about it. As someone who hunts and consumes deer himself, he feels compelled to let others know about it. ‘It is a terrible waste of a premium source of food’, he told The Echo, ‘This isn’t about trophy hunting, it is about respectfully using an animal to feed people.’
Mark explains his film’s objective: ‘I’m not trying to upset anyone, this is not a political film. I just feel strongly that we should have a situation where more people are eating these deer rather than simply wasting them. Unfortunately, at the moment, we can’t sell the meat we hunt in our restaurants. Government legislation doesn’t allow a private hunter to shoot meat and serve it in a commercial setting as it doesn’t meet the Australian meat certification guidelines.’ He would like to change people’s attitudes towards this, for them to be aware that there are millions of acres of state forest, and a lot of deer, and that if you obtain the appropriate licences you can hunt the deer. ‘Everyone is entitled to use state forests for hunting once acquiring the correct permits,’ says Mark.
Once you have tried aged hot-smoked venison you may never be able to go back to anything else – it is one of the oldest and tastiest foods there is. Nothing beats the flavour of meat cooked with wood-fire smoke, and at the upcoming event Mark will teach people how to break down the beast, age the meat and smoke a whole deer leg. He believes that more people should be aware of how good wild meat can taste. As a wild-caught animal deer is completely free range and organic. In addition venison, like the meat from all grass-fed animals, is a seriously nutritious protein source with very high levels of vitamin K2. Levels of K2 in animals reduce within a week of the animal ceasing to eat grass, so when an animal is grain fed or grain finished its K2 levels deplete because it doesn’t graze on live grass during the trucking and sale process. In comparison, wild deer spend the entirety of their lives free-ranging and so are a beautifully clean, nutrient-dense food source.
By screening this film, Mark is hoping to put forward a realistic viewpoint: deer were introduced to Australia in the late 1800s and with no natural predators have become a blight on the environment. Ironically, although they are an introduced species, deer are much more suited to the climate of the Australian bush than sheep and cattle are. It is completely understandable that farmers want these animals eradicated as they are in direct competition for pasture with the farmers’ highly prized sheep and cattle. However, surely there is a better way. Is it not time to start valuing them as a legitimate food resource?
This workshop is an opportunity to introduce people to deer, and educate them about this sustainable and tantalisingly delicious food source. ‘Last week I hunted some deer,’ says Mark, ‘I’ve aged it and will gift the meat to the people who come to the event.’
More info: Cooking With Smoke workshop and film screening Fri 27 July 5.30–7.30pm
Department of Simple Things Byron Bay.
$20 includes beers, barbecue, workshop and a
Mr Simple t-shirt.