Tue, Jan 11, 2005 - Page 6 News List

Wild game scampering back onto menus in France

FRESH MEAT Long a staple in hunters' freezers and at France's finest restaurants, wild game is winning more fans and becoming available in affordable bistros

AFP , ARREAU

For a country that has always sought to be different from the rest when it comes to cuisine, it's a wonder that this didn't happen sooner, but across France wild game is making a big comeback.

In the Pyrenean town of Arreau in southwestern France, butcher Henri Delarue has seen a sharp rise in orders for game among his customers.

"I've seen the numbers go up in the last year or two," he said.

"Everyone who lives around here hunts and has a freezer full of the stuff, but in the shop we have a lot of tourists [French and otherwise] who buy it because they like it or are curious and want to try it."

"The big-name [and very expensive] French restaurants have always had wild game on the menu," said a critic for the GaultMillau restaurant guide, who asked to remain anonymous.

"Now, however, you're starting to find it in places you can afford it like neighborhood bistros," he said, "plus, there are a few restaurants that are becoming wild game destinations."

La Regalade, where wild game has been on the menu for over 10 years, is one of the critic's favorite wild game destinations, and its new chef, Bruno Doucet, seems more than happy to carry on the tradition.

"People will now come here and order game as both an appetizer and main course," he said. "It used to be that the people eating wild game in France were just hunters, but that has changed."

Indeed, on a Thursday afternoon, La Regalade was packed with a crowd that ranges from big eaters and businesspeople to food tourists. Doucet estimated that during game season, more than one plate in five that they eat is wild game.

"I was really impressed at how much we sold at the beginning of the season -- between Oct. 10 and Nov. 10, it was huge," he said. Game can typically be found on French restaurant tables between October and February.

A hunter himself, Doucet thinks that part of game's popularity is due to the lifestyle surrounding it. "Hunting is a way to dress, a way to walk -- I don't even end up shooting much," he admitted. "It's more of an excuse to travel and see things."

Across town, The Taxi Jaune (The Yellow Taxi) is one of the more affordable restaurants just beginning to put game on their menu.

"Our parents really didn't teach us what wild game is," said Otis Lebert, Taxi Jaune's owner and head chef.

"For years, we said to ourselves that it wouldn't work, but I started putting it on the menu this year and it has been really well received," he added, describing a sort of generation gap wild game fell into.

On the menu board above his head, Lebert is serving up doe with a cocoa sauce as part of a longer list of game he's had on the menu since the game season began in October.

Lebert seems to understand why game went out of fashion.

"If you have a bad experience, you'll keep that in your head for years," he said.

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