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.

Milestone of a Young Hunter

A little Jake came into view about 100 yards away. He briskly walked the barbed wire fence line towards our set up, but he was way out of range. I nudged the young man asleep on the ground next to me. Noah is nearly 12, he stands 5’9” tall and weighs in at about 135 pounds. He is my man sized child, but he really is just a kid, and I have to remind myself of that. My kid and I am one proud papa.

He awoke with a startled look on his face, like he was shocked to be asleep at all. I told him I saw a turkey and pointed. With a somber and determined face he slowly sat up, putting his back to a tree and grabbed his gun. With a nod I started calling, my box call resonating down the valley.

The Jake kept moving, like something had disturbed him, then another turkey, a large Tom, appeared from the tree line. This bird was nearly running after the little Jake. I gave him a few clucks from the old box call. His head snapped up and I watched as his attention turned to the decoy I had set 10 yards in front of us.

The bird ran up the hill, stopping with a good view of the hen at about 45 yards and began his gobbler dance. He strutted and gobbled, then strutted some more. He slowly snaked his way toward the decoy.

Noah and I had set ourselves up on a fence line tree grove. We had seen the birds congregate in this area many times and knew there patterns from the year prior. The bird closed the distance quickly, not playing out the call and dance routine. As the Tom closed the distance he stayed right on the fence line, downhill from us.

The birds head disappeared behind a small tree and I whispered for Noah to raise his gun. Then the bird stopped, I am certain that he heard us. The old Tom deflated his body, feathers falling and head now looking at the trees, not at the decoy. He took a few more cautious steps in our direction.

Unfortunately, I had chosen a poor set up tactic. I was on the downhill side of Noah. For him to shoot he would have to do a half cross over my body. That is just a bad idea.

We both froze, the toms red head bobbing up and down trying to figure out just what these odd looking trees were. His head went behind another tree, Noah swung his gun at the bird.

The first bird.

The first bird.

I whispered for him to shoot. He said “No, you are to close.”

As low as I could mutter – my lips barley moving and my heart pounding more than if I held the gun – I told Noah to shoot as soon as I moved. I slowly placed my hands on the dirt beside me. The Tom noticed and started back down the hill. With as much mojo as I could muster I pushed myself backwards and prone. Out of the way of the muzzle blast…and out of the shot picture for Noah.

BANG! I moved and he shot. Perfect.

The bird fell, did the dead turkey flop and settled at the bottom of the hill. We grabbed our gear and make quick work of the evisceration. We high fived, we hugged…I nearly cried. He asked when deer season started. My heart filled.

Noah had done everything right on his first turkey. He didn’t shoot when it wasn’t as safe. He waited until the bird was within range. He gutted the animal quickly, thanking it for its life and accepting the meat that it would provide. He hauled the bird out on his own. He even decided what we should make out of its breast meat, cured turkey “ham”. (Recipe will be posted soon)

Maybe I am waxing philosophically about this milestone in this young outdoorsman’s life, but I truly hope it was formative. Those two minutes of turkey hunting will be burned into his mind forever. I know my first bird is still – 22 years later – very vivid.

He is a good kid and if he keeps it up he will be a great man. I love you Noah.


Peaches and Cream Grouse

For some reason my neighbors thought it would be a good idea to let me borrow one of their 90cc dirt bikes one archery season when I was in high school. They also thought it would be a good idea to let me stay in their “cabin” near Stanley Idaho. I must have had someone fooled but I took advantage of the situation.

Me and the 1960’s era dirt bike with my bow strapped to the front found more goat trails and nearly inaccessible areas than my legs ever would have. The problem, I was a young hunter, was all the noise I was making. The concept that wild animals did not wait around to see what the loud noise coming down the trail was didn’t occur to me. After all, the grouse still hung around.Wrong Decade, Wrong State, but still a cool bird

And man would I see a lot of those birds. Families of 5-6 running then fluttering up into a pine tree at eye level. I had never shot one so I just left them alone. Back at the cabin that night I looked up these seemingly slow birds in the upland regulations. I could shoot two and the season had opened the same day as my archery tag. Sweet.

The next morning I found the birds fifty yards from were they had been the night before. They seemed way to calm as I approached them, arrow on the nock.

The first one that I shot was with a blunt. Bad idea. The treed grouse was only about 20 feet away when I gave it hell out of my 55# compound. The blunt went clear through the breast of the bird and both came crumbling out of the tree. I tried saving as much of the bird as I could but the breast meat was essentially ruined.

The next grouse I shot was with a broad head, out of a tree again. I am fairly sure that an archeologist will find an arrow is stuck in a tree in the SawtoothNational Forest that has my name on it. The bird, luckily, came sliding off the shaft of the arrow and tumbled to the ground. Yet again most of the breast meat was ruined.

Limited out on grouse I went back to thinking a deer would be standing in the road just around the next corner, to no avail.

Back at the cabin I boiled up the remainder of the meat and had a nice snack. I vowed that I would figure out a non-wasteful manner of harvesting these birds with my bow. That…or just come back up with the dog and shotgun.

Tips for grouse hunting

With a bow I have found that a good judo point works great on grounded and treed grouse. I carry a judo point on my bow during archery season that I mark a special color, easier to identify. I would hate to have a judo point on the knock when sneaking on a buck.

Good six shot is normally more than enough for a grouse. But sometimes they flush fast after some pressure. At that point I switch to a size four “long shot” on my 16 gauge. These seem to give me an extra 10 yards or so of range and that comes in handy putting birds down.

Turkey season is a great time to do some grouse “scouting”. In the spring the mating call of a grouse is a distinctive low tuned thumping noise. The males pick a location, often a fallen log, and make that there home base. They hang near this log all year round. If you hear the thumping in the spring remember the location, or better yet mark it as a waypoint on your GPS. The bird should be within a few hundred yards of where you heard him in the spring.

Young grouse are just flat stupid; they are called “fool hens” for a reason. These birds make awesome “practice” for young bow hunters. I would carry my bow behind my father all season just for a shot on a young grouse. In grouse prone areas I have even made self bows and arrows and hunted the birds for more sport. Nothing says “mountain man” like coming out of the woods with a grouse and a self made bow.

Flocks of Sage Hen tend to frequent the same areas year after year. They stay in “stands” and when you know a flocks location keep it a secret. I have hunted the same bowl in OwyheeCounty for 4 years in a row. Limiting out by 8am most days.

Know your different types of grouse. Some areas have sharp-tail and sage hen, but only sharp-tail is open season. Shooting the first chicken that takes off can lead to some tense moments if the wrong type of bird is on the ground.

Know the coverage that holds birds. In tree lined areas I tend to hunt the ridgelines with the buck brush. In heavy cover I tend to hunt the logging roads. Your area is different so take notes from year to year about what type of area holds birds and what does not.

Tips for cooking Grouse –

A grouse, aside from a sage hen, is just about the closest wild-game animal to a chicken that I can think of. As such, I treat the bird as if it was a chicken. First, I will decapitate and then pluck the bird. Then I will disembowel, saving the heart and liver for a fireside snack. A big grouse will then surprisingly resemble a skinny legged chicken.

Since the meat on a grouse is white it will need to be cooked until it is well done or 165 degrees. This will kill just about any bug or parasite that the fool hen might have.

When cooking a grouse, just like a chicken, the recipes for the breast are always the easy ones to come up with. Chicken Parmesan, chicken alfredo, chicken piccatta are all great classic ways to eat the bird. The one problem with those recipes – what the heck do you do with the rest of the grouse.

One cool thing that I like to do is separate the “tenderloin” off of the breast meat and then use it as stuffing for the thigh meat. First I breast the bird out just like I would normally. On the bottom side of the bird will be a little finger of meat that is no longer attached to the breast. This is the “tender” or the “strip” that has accompanied countless kids meals for the past 100 years. Remove the tender and set it aside.

Then, I take the legs and separate them out at the thigh/knee joint. With the tip of a sharp knife I will then remove the equivalent of the femur bone from the thigh meat. Folding the tender onto itself I then will place the meat back where the femur had come from. Using the skin and a thin slice of Prosciutto (cured Italian pork leg) I then wrap the whole package, placing it seam side down to allow the natural moisture to form a seal.

These little thigh/tender bundles are great for grilling. Bacon will also work as a substitute for the Prosciutto but it will often over power the flavor of the grouse.

Peaches and Cream Grouse Bundles, Serves 2

4 ea Prosciutto grouse bundles (see above)

1 ea almost ripe peach

1 shallot, fine diced

1 tablespoon butter

¼ cup heavy whipping cream

1 tablespoon honey

Salt and pepper

Mint sprigs

Heat grill to medium high. Bring a small sauce pot of water to a boil, just big enough to hold the peach. Cut an X on the bottom of the peach and, with a pair of tongs, submerge it into the boiling water and count to 20. Carefully remove peach and run under cold tap water for one minute. The skin should come right off. Core the peach and slice thinly.

Grill the grouse bundles until the juices start to run clear, about 3 minutes on each side.

Heat butter in a medium sized sauté pan on medium high. When butter is melted and clear add the shallots and sauté them until just tuning brown. Add the peaches and the honey to the pan. Let cook for a few moments until the peaches begin to brown.

Add the cream and reduce the heat to low. Let simmer for 2-3 minutes or until the cream gets thicker. Taste the sauce and then season with salt and pepper as needed.

You can serve the grouse bundles whole or sliced, both presentations look good. Serve with mashed potatoes. Dip the bundles in the peaches and cream sauce and enjoy a classic!

Pepper Crusted Venison

The French classic of pepper corn steak, updated for a Northwestern flare. The sweetness of the apples and the apple juice are what makes this dish. It calms the pepper down in your mouth but still lets the flavors have a nice bite. Using a local apple, something firm like a Fuji, works great.

Pepper Crusted Venison Steaks IMG_0043

6-8 4oz Venison Steaks, Sirloin Makes a great choice

3 Tablespoons Cracked Black Pepper


1 tablespoon olive oil

2ea Fuji or Granny Smith Apples, peeled, cored and sliced into ¼ inch wedges

1 tablespoon Flour

¼ cup apple juice (brandy or bourbon works great here too)

½ cup milk

1 sprig rosemary (optional)


Turn oven on to “warm” and place a plate inside. Heat large heavy bottomed pan on medium. Pour the cracked peppercorns onto a small plate. Firmly press each of the steaks into the cracked peppercorns, just one side. Lightly season both sides with salt.

Pour oil into pan, it should be on the verge of smoking hot. Place the steaks in the pan peppercorn side down and let brown for 2-3 minutes. The steaks should be a nice golden browned before flipping.

Flip and cook for an additional 2-3 minutes. Remove promptly from heat if blood starts to show on the top of the pepper crusted section, this will mean that they are about medium. Place steaks on the plate in the oven to keep warm.

In the bottom of the pan should be a bunch of brown goodies stuck to the bottom, this is a good thing. Add the apples and flour. The juice from the apples should allow the flour to be absorbed and not clump. When the apples start to brown add the apple juice, about 1 additional minute. Use a wooden spoon and scrape all the brown bits off the bottom of the pan. The flour should thicken the apple juice mix quickly. Add the milk, let simmer until it reduces and thickens to a thin “gravy” consistency.

Remove steaks from the oven. Pour off any blood from the platter and serve with roasted potatoes and sautéed kale. Garnish with rosemary if desired.

Alaska Caribou Photos

As the days grow shorter and my memory fades I am posting this photo blog about caribou hunting in Alaska. These photos are the ones that bring me back. Back to the soggy ground, back to the sore back, back to the feeling of invincibility. The hunt was unguided, DIY caribou 2500 miles from my home. I am proud of what we did, it was truly grand. I’d do it again any day, not sure the folks who went with me would.

I type this eating sushi at the San Francisco airport, wanting nothing more than to be home. But travel is necessary for work. It is a short life we all have, I realize that more and more each year. Kids are born and the generation above me ages. Shit happens and cancer sucks.

Next time I’m in Alaska, I hope to have my son with me. It will make one of those unforgettable family moments…much like the one I just had with my father.