Monday, July 9, 2012

Interview with Wild Game Chef Gabe Gordon of Beachwood BBQ Restaurant


Last Monday, Rick and I went to Ronnie Kovach's Game Feast 4 Freedom charity event. There, we sat down with Chef Gabe Gordon of Beachwood BBQ in Long Beach, Calif. In an open and candid interview, Chef Gordon shared his thoughts on wild game, school lunches, Disney and supporting our military.

Delicious house brews.
We showed up early and sat outside in the patio. It was a warm evening with the summer sun coming down low, directly shining through under the overhang eaves. The pints we had tasted good and cold. They were house beers, only two of Beachwood BBQ’s twenty-two rotating taps. Peeping over the bar counter, you won’t find any Heineken, Coors or Bud, but rather brews bearing names like “Udder Love,” “Hop Vader” and “Knucklehead Red.” 

Rick and I talked—probably about our blog. Then a man came out. He didn’t look more than 35, sporting skater shorts and a gray t-shirt with an odd picture of a penguin wearing a tie. His rosy cheeks showed through an unshaven beard. “Hi, I’m Gabe,” he said, putting out his hand. So this was the fine-dining chef we’ve heard so much about. Chef Gordon laughed and apologized about his casual duds. (Hey, chefs are normal people, too.) We decided that we liked him already. 

This photo property of OCWeekly.
Chef Gabriel Gordon is the owner of two Beachwood BBQ restaurants in Southern California. He explained that he was a fine-dining chef until about 6 years ago, when he opened up his first Beachwood BBQ in Seal Beach. His restaurants are known by most as barbecue rib joints, but we came to talk to Chef Gordon about wild game. In addition to his down-home cooking style, Chef Gabe Gordon is also known for his prolific use of "exotic" meats —which is quite uncommon for a chef in these parts.


What was your first experience with wild game?  
My first time having wild game was in NorCal in Santa Rosa, Prospect Park. Every year they held a wild game feast, and you can only make reservations for the following year. I remember having black bear pot stickers. That was so good! That was my first intro. I had black bear even before I had venison or elk. From then on, I went every year until I graduated high school. 8 or 9 years, I went.

Do you hunt? 
I went hunting in New Zealand for rabbit, but it’s not for me. My senior year in high school I had an English teacher who told me that you should never be a meat eater until you’ve at least hunted and/or been to a slaughterhouse—you should know where it comes from. That was the year I went rabbit hunting. I’m not a good shot, so it wasn’t for me. I also went to a slaughterhouse and it was super gnarly, but I still had a hamburger that night. [Laughs]

I think everyone should try [hunting]. But for me, I’m not a big woodsy kind of person. I like camping on the beach—no hiking. But I have a lot of friends who bring in game birds, wild boar and I’ll cook it for them. No issues with the hunting thing—it’s just not for everybody. But I do love the fruits of all your guys’ labor.

Mini Lamb Corn Dogs with Habanero- Berry "Katsup"
Tell us more about your trip to the slaughterhouse.
My English teacher was the one who took me to the slaughterhouse. Today, I don’t know if you’d be allowed to do that anymore. I’m sure the PTA would not be happy with that. [Chuckles]

But I think it was important for me to see that. Too many people just write it off, or take for granted of what they’re eating. I found out especially in fine dining that people wouldn’t order the chicken because it still had a wing bone on it or they‘d ask me to take it off. There are people who don’t want to have that connection to the fact that their meat was a living creature— they want that separation. It’s kind of like avoiding death and avoiding life at the same time. I think it is just people’s old hang ups on their own mortality, or what not. I can close my eyes and still remember that slaughterhouse at 18 years old. It was crazy. That allowed me to be conscience, as a chef, to try not to waste and find interesting things to do with all your scraps because it was a living animal-- and trying to do justice by it. It was a big lesson on how to cook.

Beachwood BBQ's many special sauces.
What made you decide to serve wild game in your restaurants? 
There are hunters who go out and eat it all the time and don’t see what the big deal is, and everyone else sees it as something that you only get at a high-end restaurant. First thing I did was throw wild game on my menu because I think it’s a more responsible way to eat. The same weight in venison takes up way fewer resources than the same weight in cows. It’s healthier and I personally think it tastes better. So for me, that’s been one of my missions as a chef is to bring wild game back to everyone again.

During pre-World War II, wild game was on menus. It was accessible to everybody. Whatever happened after WWII and on, and I speak mostly for California—we seem to have this strange thing about us. We saw a spread in processed food and the advent of the Hungry Man – there wasn’t exactly venison in Salisbury steak. There were big farms and big agriculture solving all our problems, which I don’t think they did.

Appetizer: Wild Mushroom Stew
And I think the problem of processed foods served in schools is less that it’s processed, but continuing the ignorance of food sources and the food chain. You go in and they’re serving ground beef. There’s no bearing or concept of where it came from. Chicken nuggets that are pressed… that’s not chicken! 

And I love Disneyland; I’ve always loved it. But I really, truly believe that if Disney had chose a different set of characters—like if Bambi would’ve been about a cow, I don’t think we’d be eating as much steak. They have ruined entire generations— and continue to— of kids thinking that "why do you want to eat your friend who has a name?" It’s terrible.

What kind of wild game dishes do you serve? 
I try to cook pretty much every animal that’s allowed. And I think wild game is an important thing to have and it’s important to take the pretentiousness out of it. I don’t just do elk filets or elk New York cuts. We always try to turn them into classic Americana, southern dishes—you know, like meatloaf and stews. Everybody likes meatloaf. Doesn’t matter what you make it out of, people will always try a meatloaf if they like meatloaf. If you had a venison steak on the menu, that might turn people off. They instantly think of Bambi as opposed to thinking of meatloaf.

Grilled Smoked Yellowtail and Wild Boar Jalapeno Sausage
In a way, it’s like if you introduce people to classic dishes you’ll get a better response. And then hopefully, when they go to other restaurants and those restaurants start picking it up— let those restaurants do the fine cuts and charge a fortune for it. But at least people are introduced to it through regular cuisine, like we do here.

How did you learn to cook wild game? Is it something they teach in culinary school?
I didn’t go to culinary school. I just started working in a restaurant when I was really young. I spent a lot of time reading, and the thing with cooking wild game— or anything— is that its all just technique and all learnable. It’s written in a book somewhere. The only thing that separates chefs from one another is there ability to execute the techniques properly and their own artistic creative force.

Beer-battered Snapper and Game Bird Sausage
What is the weirdest thing you’ve ever prepared?
My sous chef brought in a turtle because he’s from Louisiana. That was a little rough. As much as I can’t stand it when people don’t want to eat certain animals because it was a Disney cartoon, I have to admit that turtle pulled my heartstrings just a tad. But none-the-less, that was for me the one thing that I at least paused for a second before messing with it, and eating it.

Outside of that, I don’t find snakes all that interesting. Not that good. I’ve eaten a ton of kangaroo. It’s good, kind of gamier. It’s gamier than bear. Last time I served kangaroo, I had to soak it in buttermilk in 2 changes a day for four days. When you pull it out of the packet, it was the deepest red wine color. It took a really long time to get the gaminess out, and we packed it with juniper berry and rosemary, strong herbs. 

 I’ve done a ton of antelope, yak, kudu. A lot of African stuff.  Yak tastes like a cross between buffalo and maybe elk. It’s good. Pretty lean. Not quite as lean as elk, but really good.

I’ve eaten horse quite a bit, I’m not sure if that qualifies as wild game, but it was delicious. I had it in Japan, shashimi of it. I had to order like four orders, and it was so good. With a little quail egg and wasabi brushed on it. It’s worth trying at least once.

Finally, let’s talk about Game Feast 4 Freedom, the event that you’re holding here today at Beachwood. Where did the game for today’s dinners come from?
Ronnie [Kovach] is a big part of the Wounded Warriors Project. We, as part of a sponsorship agreement with him came up with the idea of doing a quarterly event around wild game. At first, he wanted to keep it at a certain price point, but there’s no possible way of getting wild game from me at that certain price point. So I told him, get stuff donated from your hunters. There are guys going up shooting birds and they have tons of it in their freezer. Give everyone a chance to move some product. And we donate $5 of every $20 to their charity. 

Game Feast 4 Freedom Menu
Do you personally know anyone in the military? What does our military mean to you?
Don’t know anyone in the military, as of late. I grew up in an extremely liberal environment, Northern California. Military service was not— let’s just say everybody up there are holding peace signs. So unfortunately, I didn’t grow up in it. But I mean, they’re braver people than me. I don’t have the balls to do it, that’s for sure. 

If the military wasn’t prevalent in your life, then why did you decide to partner with Ronnie?
It’s a good thing to do. I’m free to do all this crazy stuff that other countries aren’t allowed to. How you feel about the government, how they’re running it— it doesn’t matter. These guys are out there putting their lives on the line to protect you. Whether or not these wars are good or bad is something for political discussion, but it’s beside the point. These guys are still there and doing it. So it’s good for us to support it. Our liberties are only there because people went and did what they did. So, it’s about not taking that for granted.

And that concludes our interview with Chef Gabe Gordon. We want to thank him and Ronnie Kovach for welcoming us at their event. Beachwood BBQ holds quarterly Game Feast 4 Freedom dinners to support the Wounded Warrior Project. Stay tuned for more dates!

Here are a few more photos from the night. Please enjoy!


Our waitress Jamie Lee. She was very sweet and helpful. 

Rick, enjoying his stout. He's a sucker for dark beers.

Sergio from Radio Outdoor Expeditions AM830 and a rep from Typhoon sunglasses.

Rick needs new glasses. 

Everyone else enjoying their dinners. 

I got tired of drinking beer, so I had a Coke. 

Raffle items at the event.
Then it started getting dark. The white lights above us turned on, making us feel like we were dining under the stars.

I think Rick had fun. I most certainly did! 

2 comments:

  1. Sometimes it takes an interview like this to help us remember how lucky we are to have a freezer full of wild game and fish and can eat it to our heart's content. Thanks for showing more of the world that it's O.K. to hunt and eat wild game. I think Chef Gordon is right - kids (and adults) should be exposed to where their food comes from. Great interview! Love, Chris. P.S. Deer permits went on sale here Monday. : )

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It was an awesome interview. Chef Gordon was super cool! Thanks for reading, Chris! I'm sure Tyler has already texted Rick about deer permits. Although, Rick hasn't said anything yet... I will check with him tomorrow.

      Delete

Feel free to post any questions or comments.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...