Interview – Chef Mark Owsley

Chef Mark Owsley

Coming up in the food scene in Boise I was always told stories of a bad-ass bowhunting chef. He had worked his way up from being a dishwasher to running one of the most respected restaurants in the whole state of Idaho. He did this at a place called “The Gamekeeper”…I mean how could I not love that. Add to that dynamic a chef who was as likely to shoot an elk as he was to serve it and basically Mark Owsley was a Boise legend.

I have had the good fortune of knowing Chef Owsley for years now. But frankly I regret never working for him. Recently Owsley left Boise for a more stable gig in Twin Falls. I caught up with him recently – and here are some words of wisdom.  

Question – Chef in the Wild: So, Twin Falls…how do you like the new digs?

Answer – Chef Mark Owsley: I don’t mind Twin Falls at all. Small town atmosphere and you can be out surrounded by game. Also, you are 5 minutes from anywhere and it’s a good place to stay in shape. You can walk up and down the canyon to get your cardio going.

Q: As the longtime Executive Chef at the Owyhee Plaza hotel you ran the Gamekeeper. Did the name and connection with wild game always ring true from the kitchen?

A: Working at the gamekeeper was awesome. Yes, we always ran wild game specials with lots of options on the menu. We ran: Elk, Deer, Lamb, Ostridge, Emu, Caribou, Aligator and others that I have forgotten. Tried to run Kangaroo one time, but wasn’t a favorite of the public (Too Cute I think).

Q: How did you get into hunting? Specifically bow hunting?

A: I have always had a passion for hunting. From the time I went out with my Grandpa in the late 70s with rifle, or grabbing a bow in 1980 and loving it. I started out using a recurve then moved on to the compound a few years later. Shot my first deer and my first elk with my bow. Now I am primarily a bow hunter. Nothing like being out in the wild, peacefully hiking through the woods with your bow. Even those days you don’t see anything, it is a great day! This is the one main thing I look forward to every year – September.

I also love to play softball and basketball.

Q: When did the connection to wild game and being a chef “click”?

A: The connection to being a chef just kind of fell into place for me. When I was younger working at the Gamekeeper, I wasn’t sure what I was going to be? Having two great chef’s Like John Fisher and Tony Perazzo guiding me helped me reach my decision. Matter of fact, I tried to quit one time in the early 80s and Chef Fisher wouldn’t let me! Kind of cool!!

Wild game also just fell into place for me. Working at the gamekeeper and loving hunting and fishing just means the stars all aligned perfectly for me.

Q: What is the next challenge? Another big bull?

A: My next Challenge would probably be get into better shape. As I get older the mountains get tougher. My goal is always to shoot a bull, if the big one steps in the way then BONUS. Not totally against shooting a cow either.

Q: Closing thoughts about how to treat game or how to cook it?

A: I have found out with bowhunting that you need to take care of your game quickly and properly. Generally when someone says they don’t like deer or elk because they are to “wild tasting”, I would blame that mostly on how the game was taking care of. When bowhunting it is still pretty warm out, get the hide off the animal and get the meat chilled as soon as possible. Keep the meat clean. As far as cooking a good elk steak, don’t overcook it. Medium Rare or a bit less is best in my book.

You know switching over to health care has been a great move for me. Being more conscious of eating healthier isn’t a bad thing. We are always getting comments like: great restaurant quality food, or, not hospital food anymore, best restaurant in town (in our café), I never thought a person could be treated as well as I am treated here. Even though I do miss working at the Keeper, to a point, it is also great to have weekends and evenings off to enjoy family and life. Getting your vacation time without interruptions isn’t bad either. Taking two weeks off in a row has its benefits also (better chance of hitting the Wapiti Rut)

Thanks Randy! Talk to you soon.

>>>>>I also asked Chef Owsley for a recipe that he could share for all the wild game eaters out there. He obliged with a cool dish.<<<<<

Rocky Mountain Elk with Wild Cherry Sauce – recipe courtesy of Chef Mark Owsley.

(Serves 4)

8-2oz Elk Tenderloin medallions

1 oz butter

Crushed Black pepper

Kosher Salt

Pound elk medallions to ¼ inch thickness. Pre-heat sauté pan on medium heat then add butter. Lightly season elk medallions with Crushed black pepper and kosher salt. Place medallions into pan and sear on both sides for about 1 minute. Brown is good, black is bad – for both butter and meat. Pull Medallions out of sauté pan so elk doesn’t continue to cook. Reserve.

Wild Cherry Sauce

20 Fresh Cherries

1 oz Crème de cassis (wild berry liqueur)

4 oz brown sauce (recipe to follow)

4 Mint leaves

Remove pit and ¼ all the cherries. Add cherries to the hot sauté pan the elk was cooking in. Keep heat on medium. Soon as pan is simmering add the Crème de cassis (this may flame up so be careful). Add the brown sauce and simmer for about 2 minutes. Tear mint leaves into small pieces and add to sauce. With the elk presented on a plate, top with the wild cherry sauce.

Hunter’s Barley

1 lb cooked barley (follow cooking instructions on barley container, then rinse and chill)

2 oz small diced smoked bacon

1 oz port wine

1 oz brown sauce

1 oz diced green onions

Crushed black pepper

Kosher salt

Sauté bacon in 2 quart sauce pot until  ¾ done.  Add barley and sauté for 1 more minute. Add port wine, brown sauce, pepper and salt. Simmer for about 3-4 minutes – until thick. Turn heat off and add green onions.

>>>>Note – This would be a great place to use a wild game stock or demi-glace – check out Hank Shaw’s. That is basically what chef Mark Owsley is doing here<<<<

Brown Sauce

¼ cup butter

¼ cup flour

2 cups of water

3 beef bouillon cubes

Melt butter, add flour to make roux and cook for 4 minutes. Add water stirring constantly. Add bouillon and stir dissolved. Simmer 5 minutes until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. If more flavor is needed you can add more beef bouillon if needed.

Bratwurst Recipe

>>>>>Please refer to the more detailed section here for a better “how too” guide on making fresh sausages.

Some might say that wild game has too much flavor for a typical bratwurst recipe. I disagree! These are killer and taste like the old country.

2 pounds Venison or other wild animal, diced

1 pound fat back, diced

1 heavy tablespoon kosher salt

2 teaspoons ground black pepper

1 teaspoon dried marjoram

1/2 teaspoon caraway seed

1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1 tablespoon minced garlic

2 teaspoons red pepper flakes, optional

1/2 tablespoon chicken base

½ cup ice water

2 hog casings

Soak casings according to directions on package. Place grinder attachments and stuffing machine into the freezer.

Combine diced venison with salt and chill for 1 hour. Using the smallest grate on the grinder grind the fat back and venison into a chilled steel bowl. Add the remaining seasonings and water. With your hands (gloves!) or a mixer incorporate the seasonings.

Next add the sausage mix to the stuffer. Follow the directions laid out above in the “The Stuff” section and proceed to stuff your sausages. Freeze or cook them at this point.

Cook sausages on the grill for about 10-15 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 150 degrees, or 160 if bear, white meated birds or wild hog is involved.

Breakfast Sausage

>>>>>Please refer to the more detailed section here for a better “how too” guide on making fresh sausages.

Some sausages, namely breakfast, need no casing. This is a great way to start down the sausage making road. The equipment needs are less and the pressure is off. I use this recipe or a maple version of it, at home for biscuits and gravy all the time. (Recipe inspiration from Alton Brown)

Breakfast Sausage

 2 pounds Venison or other wild animal, diced

1 pound fat back, diced

1 heavy tablespoon kosher salt

1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage leaves

2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves

1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves

1 tablespoon light brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 squirt Sriracha

¼ cup ice water

Optional: ¼ cup maple syrup

Combine diced venison with salt and chill for 1 hour. Using the smallest grate on the grinder grind the fatback and venison into a chilled steel bowl. Add the remaining seasonings and with your hands or a mixer incorporate the seasonings. Next place the mix back into the refrigerator.

Next I split the meat into three bags and freeze them.

When you want to eat them thaw the meat and form them into 2 ounce balls (about 1/8 cup). Smash the balls into patties over medium-low heat in a non-stick pan. Sauté until brown and cooked through. (Remember if using bear cook completely)

Antelope Solomo

Best served on crusty bread with olives, roasted red peppers and olives.

Best served on crusty bread with olives, roasted red peppers and olives.

Historically, large sheep populations in Idaho have been managed by Basque immigrants. In fact, Idaho hosts one of the largest Basque populations outside of the Basque homeland. Basque food and culture have been embraced and celebrated by Idahoans for generations. In this spirit, I have adapted a traditional Basque pork dish, solomo for use with antelope.

Antelope Solomo

1 antelope sirloin

½ cup olive oil

½ cup sweet paprika

¼ cup garlic powder

1/8 cup fresh basil, chopped

1/8 cup fresh sage, chopped

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Mix oil, paprika, garlic, herbs, salt and pepper in a bowl. It should come out as a thick paste. Rub the paste on the sirloin and let sit in refrigerator for no less than 24 hours. Re-apply rub as needed to keep the whole roast covered.

1 onion, sliced

2 red bell peppers, cored, seeded and sliced

20 cloves of garlic, crushed

1 small jar pimentos

10 green olives, pitted and quartered

1 baguette, sliced and grilled

Fresh cilantro

Olive Aioli

½ cup mayonnaise

¼ cup green and black olives

Preheat oven to 375˚F.

Reapply rub to the loin. In a roasting pan add the onions, garlic, red peppers, pimentos and olives. Place sirloin on top of the onion mix. Roast in the oven until the loin reaches 120 degrees at the thickest spot.

Mix mayo and olives together in a small bowl. Chill and reserve.

Remove roast from oven and it let rest in the pan for about 10 minutes. Slice thin and serve with the onions and peppers, grilled baguette, olive aioli, and cilantro.

Antilope Sirloin, whole roasted.

Antilope Sirloin, whole roasted.

Elk Meatballs

Fivespiced Elk Meatballs

Fivespiced Elk Meatballs

The elk made their way up the ravine in a single file. It was a death trap for them, really. The ravine was steep on both sides, bordered with buck brush with a small game trail running down the middle of it. No way to turn around in a hurry. My brother had spotted the elk a few days prior following a predictable rout. Eat the alfalfa in the farmers’ field, make their way up a ravine and bed in the timber. They were like clockwork.All four of us had cow tags and were waiting behind a rock outcropping opening morning. We heard the elk first. The sound of one hundred and twenty hoofs is not mellow. The tension rose as the noise grew louder and louder until the lead cow came into view. The chill morning air was coming out of her nose in a white cloud of smoke. Behind her was a precession of antlerless elk, and one lone spike. They created a misty cloud in their wake.

When the herd was in shooting distance we all lined up on elk. Scopes on brown fir and safeties off; we all fired. Four elk fell to the ground. All hell broke loose with the rest of the herd. Elk clamored over each other, turning and spinning in confusion, before finally sprinting up valley.

We waited for a little while, making sure we had a vantage on any wounded elk, and then made our way down to the bottom. My elk was dead as a doornail, my .270 was more than enough. About 15 yards away from me I heard a loud crash and an “Oh, SHIT!”

The elk my neighbor Dick had shot was now standing in the buckbrush, just off the trail. One jump and she was in the middle of the ravine. Next she started to run – right at me. “Shoot! Shoot! Shoot!” was all I could hear as I sidestepped the elk charging me. Her side and my chest made brief contact; she left some blood on my shirt. After she passed I pulled up and let a round fly – I missed at about 20 feet. (I vividly remember the dumbfounded feeling of missing at that range. I literally saw only fir in my scope at that distance.)

I tried to cycle another shell and my gun jammed.

I turned around to look at the rest of the group. All standing directly behind me, guns in the ready position but no one was able to shoot. I was making a much better door than a window, as I was standing directly in the line of fire. The very nature of the ravine that led to success blocked all follow up shots.

I tagged and gutted my elk. With help we propped her up to drain. We had to find the wounded elk now. It really only had one direction to go, thankfully. The blood trail was also very heavy. Unfortunately we humans were not the only ones on the trail. Two small-ish bears (5 footers at best) had decided to trail our elk. When we arrived the elk had passed, thankfully. But the bears were sitting on their haunches looking at the carcass. They started “barking” at us as we approached, but eventually fell back to about 40 yards. They waited.

We tossed them elk bones for snacks and to try and scare them. It is unnerving to have that much dangerous company so close by, especially covered in elk-blood. But the bears would not give up easily for they knew the truth about elk. They are delicious.

Recipe –

As a wild game chef I frequently get asked how to use more ground meat. On game animals it is often the case that up to 50% of the meat ends up in the grinder. An elk only has two backstraps after all. If it can’t be roasted or cut into steaks the butcher will often toss it in the grind. Not there is anything wrong with that, it just leads to a lot of taco meat in most houses.

Variety is vital to eating an elk over the course of a year. It is a lot of meat for a normal family. One easy to accomplish method is the meatball.

Balled up and cooked meat is a staple around the world. Italians, Chinese, Japanese, American, Swedish, Turkish (often on sticks) – name the culture and it almost certainly has a ball shaped ground meat dish. Why? It is a cheap and easy way to use up what would otherwise be tough cuts of meat.

I am a personal fan of the Chinese/Thai mash up of Five Spice flavored meatballs with a sweet chili sauce. Lots of flavor and very filling. I like to serve it with white rice and a green bean salad.

Just remember – a recipe is just a good idea someone had and wrote down. They should always be played with. Like garlic, add more. Don’t like ginger, do add any. Have fun with food!

Five Spiced Elk Meatballs with Sweet Chili Sauce and Green Bean Salad

Green Bean Salad

1 Pound Frozen Hari co Vert (small green beans)

1 pound frozen shelled edamame

1 can black beans, drained

½ red onion, shaved thin

1 cup Ginger Soy Dressing – Store Bought

Bring a 2 quart pot of water to a boil. Make an “ice bath” – basically a large mixing bowl with a 50/50 ratio of ice and water.

When the water is boiling add the edamame and the Hari co Vert’s. Let stand in water for 3 minutes, stir one time. Drain vegetables into colander then add the vegetables to the ice bath. Let them cool, remove any excess ice and then drain in the colander. Refrigerate until ready to make salad.

When ready toss the hari co verts/ edamame mix with the drained black beans, shaved onion and ginger soy dressing. Serve cold.

Elk Meatballs

1 Pound Ground Elk Meat

1 teaspoon Five Spice

1 teaspoon chili powder

1 teaspoon garlic, fresh, chopped

¼ cup mayonnaise

½ cup bread crumbs

1 tablespoon sesame seeds

1 tablespoon sliced thin green onions

Salt and Pepper

1 cup Sweet Chili Sauce

Heat oven to 350°. In a medium sized mixing bowl add everything but the sweet chili Sauce. Mix well, by hand, for 2-3 minutes.

Using a small ice-cream scoop make 1 ounce meatballs, you should get about 18 from this recipe. Place each meatball on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake for 20 minutes. A little pink in the center is desired.

When done carefully transfer the cooked meatballs to a mixing bowl. Add the sweet chili sauce onto the meatballs. Carefully toss or stir to fully coat the meatballs with the sauce.

Garnish with thin sliced carrot and green onions. Serve hot.