by Deborah Hadfield
Game meat, venison and duck are helping a Cornish restaurant fly high.
The magazine Condé Nast Traveller voted the Ugly Butterfly at Carbis Bay Hotel one of the top restaurants in the UK. Part of its success is sourcing game locally.
Head chef Connor Blades says they source their meat from West Country Premium Venison. He says: “It’s just an amazing product. It is really local and the meat they supply is brilliant. At the moment we’ve got duck on the menu which was shot locally. We just love using things that are close to the restaurant. That’s really close to our heart.”
You eat parts of deer and pheasant at the Ugly Butterfly restaurant that you may not have previously considered.
Connor says they use all of each duck. He says: “We use the breasts on the crown and finish on the barbecue. We confit the legs that roll into a sausage. We make the skin really crispy. That sits on top of it. And all the carcases we make into our sauce.
Reducing food waste at the Ugly Butterfly restaurant is central to its ethos. Its motto ‘why waste?’ inspires its menus.
Connor says the outlook of the Ugly Butterfly owner Adam Handling on food and his restaurants is ‘sustainability’ which, unlike many people in the world of hospitality, he defines. He says: “This means keeping everything as local as possible and minimising food waste. At the moment, with the cost of food going up, you can’t waste anything. Everything is so expensive. If you throw something in the bin it’s money down the drain, and it’s also just a waste of the product.”
The Ugly Butterfly restaurant is leading the way in making game meat delicious.
Connor grew up in the Yorkshire countryside. He says: “I think it’s an amazing opportunity for myself because of where I’ve come from. I was raised around shooting, fishing, and using game of all sorts. It’s great to come back around to it and be able to use it in my professional career. To be able to utilise the skills that I developed as a kid growing up, and now to use them in the restaurant.”
The pheasants, partridges and venison served at the Ugly Butterfly all lived and died in Cornwall.
In the same county, Ollie Williams runs the Cornish Sporting Agency. He is proud to produce game meat for local food businesses.
He says: “The shoots produce pheasant, partridges and a few duck, which we give and sell locally to restaurants and cafés.”
Outside the pheasant shooting, season he runs a deer management program which produces venison. He says: “It’s sustainably shot and managed for local restaurants and communities. For example, I gave a lot of venison away to people during lockdown with care packages in meat drops.”
Wild-sourced venison is more more free-range than farmed meats. It is healthy in comparison to other red meats as it contains less fat. It’s also a fantastic source of protein, containing more per gram or pound than beef, pork or chicken.
Annette Woolcock is head of sustainable food at BASC. She says game is an under-utilised meat that offers many benefits.
She says: “It’s what the consumer is looking for. They’re looking for something that has a benefit to the climate, that is wild, that has no additives and is good for their health.”
Ollie is a fan of the health benefits of game. He says: “When you compare venison, rabbits, grouse and pheasant to beef, the fat content is far lower. The iron content is far higher. And the lean protein content is also much better for your health.”
He says game has an unwarranted poor reputation, but people need to think again.
It’s not just restaurants that are selling game. A motorway service station outside Gloucester has a farm shop that offers commuters locally-sourced game.
BASC says that eating game meat is a great way of reducing food miles. Ollie says communities need to be more conscious of their carbon footprint and high food.
Annette says with game meat the key consideration is ‘net gain’. She says: “A net gain is the positive effects game meat has on the climate and biodiversity. So, for instance, in game birds, it’s all about the enhancements that goes along to the woodlands and the cover crops, which will attract wild birds and insects. And then with the stalking, it’s about protecting the woodland and crops while we’re culling the deer.”
Connor says game meat causes less harm to the land and doesn’t damage the environment as much as farmed meat.
He says: If the animals are traveling from overseas they have more miles and a bigger carbon footprint. He says: “We have so much good local produce that we can utilize. We don’t need to get it from abroad. And yes, that is cheaper, but I think if you’re buying meat, you shouldn’t look for the cheapest thing. It’s not a cheap product. It’s a higher price for a reason because there’s so many steps and people involved. The need to manage the system to be able to put it on our plates.” He says it’s amazing that such tasty meat like game is available from nearby countryside.
World class chefs such as Connor hope their dishes will help show people that sustainable game meat isn’t just healthy and good for the environment. It’s also delicious.
He says: “The animals are there regardless, and you have to manage them at some point. If the animals are managed, then they need to be used as well. We take them in the restaurants, we eat them, serve them to guests, and the guests love it. So it’s a full circle.”
With the Eat Game Awards in London just around the corner, wild-sourced food is making a comeback as a delicacy. Now we should work on making it a staple.