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A Hunter and an Artist

Chef Albert Wutsch Discusses His Unique Philosophy to Game Processing

Photos by Iain Harrison, HOM Film Co., and Outdoor Solutions Corp.

You can tell a lot about someone’s field experience by the efficiency and skill at which they dress out a freshly harvested animal. Watching Chef Albert Wutsch masterfully break down a South Texas Wild boar while carefully explaining the process of identifying each muscle and which cooking technique would yield the best results was a unique experience.

Wutsch’s love of the outdoors stretches back to waiting for his father’s return from excursions to the Adirondacks of upstate New York when he was still too young to accompany him. He and his two brothers would eagerly await their dad’s homecoming so they could listen to the tales of his adventures and eat the delicious rewards of a successful hunt. As the boys became of age, they began to accompany their father, uncles, and cousins on these trips, gaining just as much in experience as they did passion for the outdoors. This led to joining the Boy Scouts, with all the Wutsch boys attaining the rank of Eagle Scout. It was during his climb through the scouting ranks that Albert was introduced to cooking, in the form of requirements for different badges, thus laying the foundation for his future outdoor culinary exploits. Skills acquired during his scouting days would stay with him; one of the first questions posed to him from an outfitter when applying for a job as a backcountry cook was: “Can you start a fire?”

Wutsch chuckled, “Little did I know I’d be starting fires with flint and steel or two sticks, or carrying a charcoal wrapped in cottonwood bark in my saddlebags.”

Wutsch enjoyed cooking so much he pursued part-time employment in restaurants as a teen, landing his first job at 15 at a local establishment, the Holly Inn in Bloomingdale, New Jersey, that specialized in classical and French cuisine. By his own account, he lucked into such a positive environment at such a young age, learning the basics of making stocks and mise en place (a culinary process in which ingredients are prepared and organized).

“At the time I didn’t know how important this was, I just knew it was a nice restaurant, and we couldn’t afford to eat there,” Wutsch explained.

These first experiences in professional kitchens made a lasting impression still evident today in his game dishes, such as Venison au Poivre (See page 22 for a version of this) and Pheasant Breast in Candied Orange Butter Sauce.

Like many on the eastern seaboard, his love of the outdoors drove Wutsch west, where he began attending the University of Montana, majoring in Wildlife Management and once again working part time at local restaurants. He’d change his major to culinary arts and switch to the local vocational culinary program after his second year, studying under Chef William Hunter, one of the first certified executive chefs in Montana. Hunter would later become Wutsch’s mentor and supervisor once Wutsch became a teacher’s aide at the school. That led to a full-time faculty position, thus kicking off Wutsch’s career as an educator and a lifelong friendship between the two.

Knowing the origins of Chef Wutsch’s experience is important when looking at what he calls the philosophy of game processing. In his view, proper preparation begins before the trigger is ever pulled, even before the selection of the animal; it starts with the hunter’s mindset, preparation, and tool selection.

“Dad had always taught us to respect the animal life, not to waste. He taught conservation. We were always prepared to handle the meat and for the work that came after the trigger was pulled … ‘I’ll be sitting here sharpening my knife’ is the Wutsch’s official hunting camp song. When hunting with our father, we always fabricated our meat, and over the years developed what I call today our philosophy of game processing. Of course, being a professional chef has had major impact on the process.”

This comes out in Wutsch’s classes as he focuses on every aspect of how the game is handled after harvesting.

“We teach all the factors that affect the taste and tenderness from the field to the table. There are too many people who love to hunt, but their families don’t like venison, that don’t like the gamey taste because it was mishandled in the field or in the processing procedures. Our objective is to teach people how to make good quality, tender tasty meats. We discuss those factors that affect it; the age of the animal, the diet of the animal, how they were shot, shot placement. Getting the body temperature down as fast as possible and getting the blood out. Doing this while keeping it as clean as possible, no hair or dirt.”

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