Lean, but certainly not mean, venison is a New Zealand-grown flavour sensation.
My first experience cooking venison was dealing to the shoulder of a stag my friend Jimmy had successfully shot on a hunting trip. We slow-cooked it in a pie and it was excellent. Before that, the first time I remember eating the stuff was when I was working at a gastro-pub. There, it was served as a back steak atop mushroom risotto with truffle oil. These two dishes were worlds apart and many people's experience with this incredibly lean, versatile and gamey meat extends only to the former, thanks to a friend who hunts.
New Zealand farm-raised venison is definitely a different product and is all about maintaining consistency in quality. That consistency is something Tom Hishon, of Auckland eatery Orphans Kitchen, knows plenty about.
Hishon, Orphans Kitchen head chef and co-owner, has become an ambassador for New Zealand farm-raised venison, with which he has a long history, right back to growing up in the heart of Southland where he spent a lot of time on his granddad's deer farm. Now, from his modern restaurant on Ponsonby Rd, he serves it alongside kale, black garlic and tamarillo.
Because venison is so lean, people often fear it will dry out, Hishon says. He also notes people shouldn't be scared of serving it a little pink. Rare and medium-rare are both good options.
It's easier to cook than people think, and along with a hot sear and cooking in a non-fan-forced oven, Tom says resting the meat after it's cooked is crucial.
Tom often has venison on the menu at Orphans Kitchen. A favourite dish was the inspiration for one of these recipes: roasted beetroot, hazelnuts, parsnip, and, at the restaurant, fresh pomegranate in season.
He admits to always having eaten venison at granddad's, and he says it just agrees with him, particularly because it's high in iron and nutrients.
Like many of us, Tom increasingly is conscious about what he's putting in his
body, and loved venison partly for that reason, too.
As a cook and a young restaurateur, Tom is enjoying the ride.
Orphans Kitchen has been open a little over two years, and he chats to me about how a restaurant is a constantly evolving thing. He also increasingly feels a responsibility as a chef to know where all his food comes from, and he values those relationships.
Orphans Kitchen is always developing its own style of food and is an exciting place to dine as a result.
Tom tells me a lot of our deer is sent overseas because it's such a premium product.
As something to cook with, venison's flavour combinations are interesting because the meat is so lean, and it lends itself nicely to fruit.
With a few ideas, I came up with these three dishes. Thanks to Tom for the inspiration!