If there’s a reason that Balmer Lawn Hotel’s Beresford restaurant has such a reputation for its game, it’s probably because of Executive chef, Chris Wheeldon.
He is positively evangelistic about the joys of eating the game caught outside his kitchen door – the venison, rabbit, pheasant and wild duck that appears regularly on his menus and that will form a huge part of the six-courser he’s preparing as the headliner for the Glorious Game and Roaring Fires food festival theme.
“November is a fantastic time of year to be doing this,” he says. “Not only do you have the amazing choice of meat and fish, you also have the kinds of vegetables that suit game really well; parsnips, carrots, turnips, all earthy, rustic, rooty things.”
Chris’s favourite game is venison and wild duck. “Venison is the most amazing food, really low in cholesterol and versatile too,” he says. “There are the shoulders, and if you cut the haunch down and remove the sinew you can get some really high-quality soft meat, comparable to a saddle but about a third of the price.”
He tries to only source venison shot in the New Forest. “I much prefer the wild venison, not the farmed stuff which you can access year-round, because it defeats the object of eating with the seasons,” he says.
It’s for this reason he enjoys using wild duck. “It has a very short season but it goes really well with apples and sultanas,” and he loves working with pheasant. “It’s a very versatile, light meat and, cooked well, it tastes exceptionally good.”
However, Chris is well aware that for too many people, game is not high on their list of culinary experiences to have, and he believes he knows the reason.
“A lot of it stems from people’s childhoods when their parents or grandparents would hang game until it was a shade of green,” he says. “People didn’t have the right storage and the meat could be sticky and gamey.
He says that because of food regulations, things have changed. “I think that if people had a bad experience in the past they would find it very different now.”
Another reason that people don’t choose game, he believes, is the ‘Bambi and Watership Down factor’. “People can feel that way about these animals but the thing to remember is that we do have to keep these species under control because of the crop damage,” he says. “It’s also important to remember that wild food has lived as nature intended, before being killed very quickly and humanely.”
His enthusiasm for game makes him one of the forest’s greatest ambassadors for this type of food but, he says, it’s a passion he’s had since training at Highbury College in Portsmouth, and working at Goodwood Park and Down Hall Hotel, before becoming Head Chef at Carey’s Manor Hotel and then joining Balmer Lawn.
“I’ve always enjoyed cooking game and incorporating it into recipes,” he says. “Your diet is a bank account; eat good food and you make good investments.”
For more information and to book, visit our Glorious Game & Roaring Fires theme page.
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