Chef Jesse Woodland was nervous as he stood before his first class of pheasant cooks on Saturday morning, Oct. 15 in Wm. E. Hay’s kitchen.
While Woodland has been cooking for years, he has not taught a class before, even though he had been selected from the kitchen at Restaurant Chartier in Beaumont, south of Edmonton, to be the Pheasant Festival’s guest chef.
“I was pretty nervous,” he said with a chuckle. “But class went great. Everyone got their hands in, and we had some great laughs.”
Woodland taught two classes on Saturday to Pheasant Festival participants, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. There, he taught different ways to prepare the pheasant for cooking and two different recipes.
“I’m starting with a demo on how to break down the bird,” he explained. The first method, called “spatchcock,” removes the spine and ribs from the bird. Once those are removed, the bird spreads out and lies flat. In addition to spatchcocking, Woodland taught his students how to properly remove the breast and leg from pheasants as well as fully debone them.
After the demonstration, students were able to work on two recipes prepared by Woodland for the class.
The first was a spatchcock recipe with herbs and spices, though since the pans were too small for a fully spatchcocked pheasant, they were cooked in quarters.
The second was confit pheasant tacos with Mole Verde, a herb and wine preparation.
Even though Woodland had never taught a class before, the chef has had plenty of experience working with wild game and wild meats.
“I worked with an Aboriginal chef at a casino,” Woodland explained. “We served bison, elk, pheasant, grouse, turkey, duck, and venison.”
While the meats were not technically wild – health and safety regulations required the animals be raised in captivity – and gave Woodland the opportunity to work with meats outside of the usual range of fish, pork, beef, chicken and turkey.
“I learned a lot from him,” Woodland said.
Woodland has hunted a few times on his own, but admitted to not having a lot of experience on the harvesting side of wild game.
“I did a bit of hunting when I worked at Rock Lake Lodge, near Hinton,” he said.
Islay Fraser-Hardy, 8, came with her father from Calgary. She joined Edie Stelkovics, also from Calgary, and Sue Cameron, from Stettler, in the afternoon class.
“We’re friends,” Cameron said. “(Stelkovics) and Islay’s father bought dogs from me. Her dad and my husband are out hunting today.”
The trio were excited to learn different ways to prepare the pheasant.
“This has been a lot of fun for all of us,” Cameron said.
Woodland had advice for aspiring cooks, regardless of their ability level.
If the number of people being fed is large enough, speaking with the grocery store’s butcher for whole cuts of meat will save money and provide plenty of meat.
“Second, you don’t have to follow recipes to a T,” he said, gesturing at the counter top full of herbs, spices and vegetables.
“These recipes are very forgiving,” he said of the two he prepared for the lesson. “Some of the ingredients on this list aren’t here today because I used what I had available.”
As an example, Woodland pointed out that instead of white vinegar, the student chefs were using apple cider vinegar as it was what he had available.