Story by Becky Speere
Wild venison is making its menu debut at Spago Maui, thanks to Executive Chef Cameron Lewark, who is working with U.S.D.A. inspectors to bring fresh island venison to our tables. Chef Cameron is a member of the Maui Axis Deer Harvesting Cooperative — conservationists, hunters and farmers who see harvesting game meat as a way to help control destructive axis deer populations on Maui. (For more on the subject, see “Fair Game” in the May/June 2013 issue of MNKO.)
Chef Cameron recently invited us into his kitchen to watch him prepare Maui venison with plum wine sauce. Yum!
MNKO: What do you like about venison?
CHEF: Maui venison is the best-tasting meat. With [the deer’s] natural diet of kiawe beans and wild grasses, it’s not gamey. It’s better than any farmed venison.
I brown the rack of venison and roast it until it is rare in the center. That’s how I like to cook it; the meat stays tender and juicy. You have to let it sit before you slice it so the juices can redistribute throughout the meat. If you roast it for thirty minutes, you want to let it rest for thirty minutes.
A verjus, port and plum wines, star anise, cinnamon, cloves and ginger accompany the meat. I’ve also prepared fresh creamed corn and a confit of Maui pineapple, golden raisins, Maui onion, vanilla and ginger.
MNKO: I notice you finish the verjus sauce with butter. Why is that?
CHEF: It gives a softness to the tart-sweet flavors and a shine to brighten the sauce.
MNKO: The corn is absolutely fragrant. How did you get such intensely scented corn?
CHEF: It’s Kula corn, locally grown. It’s the sweetest corn. I grate it and reduce it slowly in its own juices with butter, cream and salt and pepper. Simple.
MNKO: What wine varietal would you pair with this dish?
CHEF: An old world cabernet would be great. A pinot would go well with this, too. Nothing sweet; you want a dry red wine. The sauce is sweet with the port wine, so you want to balance that.