Recently, Nic Jones, chef for St. Helena’s Goose & Gander, was wearing a new pair of boots, trying to break them in before he headed off to a snowy Virginia.
He and St. Helena native Loren Gardner have spent the last few days teaching a live fire workshop with wild game. They spent three days hunting their own game – deer, geese and duck – and then preparing for a party held on Saturday, for 60-70 people at Abingdon Vineyard & Winery.
Before the trip, Jones said, “We’ll be hunting our own game and cooking a dinner and also showcasing different methods of live fire. We’ll be doing some wine pairing as well,” since he is a certified sommelier.
“Loren is a more experienced hunter, then I’ll show him the cooking side,” Jones said, adding he and Gardner have done a number of live fire events before. They have cooked whole hogs and lambs Asado style, which is where the meat is attached to a metal cross and cooked over a fire. “As it cooks, we baste it with a juniper chimichurri sauce,” Jones said.
He added Goose & Gander’s bar team has created a gin cocktail that is designed to pair with venison. “We’re bringing our bar there, too, to represent what Goose & Gander stands for. We’re known for our cocktails as well as our food,” Jones added.
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Loren Gardner and his wife, Elizabeth, bought the 45-acre property Abingdon Vineyard & Winery in southwest Virginia in July, after having fallen in love with the property while helping their friends move from California to Virginia. Currently, 10 acres are planted in vines and the winery produced 1,800 cases of wine. The website lists 18 wines, made from Bordeaux and native Virginia grapes, ranging in price from $15 to $25. Bob Carlson and Janet Nordin started the winery in 2001. Kevin Sutherland has been vineyard manager and cellarmaster since 2005.
Before leaving on the trip, Jones estimates the venison will take four to six hours to cook. “We’ve been watching the weather, it will probably be snowing, which means it will take longer to cook,” he said. Gardner is a welder and is expected to weld all the equipment needed, including the cross for the venison and a planchet, which is a large cast-iron skillet that goes over the fire. “We’ll be blanching the Brussel sprouts and put a couple of other items in there,” Jones said. Game birds will hang over the fire on poles, other items will be cooking in the coals – all to showcase different methods of live fire.
The wood for the fire will include a few different hardwoods, fruit and nut woods, including maple, almond and hickory. It will be harvested from the property.
Jones and Gardner offered a live fire cooking workshop on Saturday for about 10 people, who learned recipes and techniques and helped in the kitchen, including plating and serving the food. They also were a part of the dinner, Jones said. Jones left on Dec. 5, the party was Dec. 8 and Jones was expected back on Dec. 12.
Jones has been executive chef at Goose & Gander for the past 18 months, before that he was at Farmstead for five years, where he was responsible for live fire cooking three days a week.