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Brian Poe on Exotic Meats, from Camel to Python

Photo: Brian Poe/Rachel Leah Blumenthal

On any given visit to The Tip Tap Room, you might find antelope meatloaf listed alongside an escargot and frogs' legs dish — and perhaps some camel, yak, or python. For The Five Days of Meat, here's The Tip Tap Room's Brian Poe on his love of exotic meats and unusual game.

How did you first get interested in game?
I was cooking it back in Arizona, because it was prominent out there — buffalo, wild boar, things like that, coming out of the Southwest. Then when we were talking about doing steak tips of all varieties here, it was just like, "Let's go. Let's do whatever we can." It's been a lot of fun. There are a lot of nuances. It took a little time to get used to certain things, like kangaroo — that's tough to get the right marinade and to get that to cook right. I did one with a sangria marinade, just for fun, because it was summertime, but the acidity in that made it tougher, so you couldn't tell when mid-rare was. Had to start watching those types of things. I've been cooking game off and on for 20 years but really cooking it here every day for the last two years. It's been fun.

What's the most exotic thing you've served here?
The llama, the yak, and the camel would be the top three, and — we haven't served this yet, but we just got it in — python meat. So we're going to try that. We don't even know what to do yet. The yak is becoming harder to get, but the camel and the llama and this python will be at the top of the list.

I saw rattlesnake at Savenor's yesterday and was wondering what would be a good way to cook snake.
I put that on when I was at The Rattlesnake; it was the weirdest thing I've ever cooked. It actually affected me. It comes frozen in a coil. I marinated it in buttermilk and cilantro to break it down, and when you pick it up, it would, like, move in your hand, and when you cooked it, it was stiff. Instead of serving it on the bone, we put a fork up in between it and got all the meat off and chopped it up into little crab cake things. It's a different beast.

What do you like to do with the yak, camel, etc.?
With the camel, I did a ras el hanout spice rub on it, cooked it down in ghee, and served it with an Israeli couscous, cucumber, and tomato salad. I try to go towards the origin of where it comes from. But we've also gone in the other direction with, for example, the kangaroo — we bacon-wrapped it. We've got a world map downstairs, and we'll look at the map and go, "Ok, this comes from here, here, here, and here. I don't feel like doing the Philippines right now, so let's go back towards Mexico, or let's go back to the Caribbean."

How difficult is it to source some of these things?
I've been buying from a few of the companies, especially one in Texas, since when I was in Arizona — about 20 years now. That one is a little easier. With antelope ribs, for example, he calls and says, "We're going in for a kill. Do you want the ribs?" But there are other ones where it's more difficult. The kangaroo got held up in customs at one point because someone in LA thought that they would let it through without going through FDA, and FDA said, "Allow us to introduce ourselves." You can order llama on June 1 and it could take until July 8 to get it. You never know exactly which pieces you're going to get.

Anything you really want but just haven't been able to get?
I tried to get iguana in but it got tangled up at the border, so we didn't get that. I really want to do it. Some of the guys are like, "Yeah, I used to shoot those as a kid in El Salvador and eat them." I just want to see what that's like — is it more like alligator? More like python? You've got to do your homework and try a few of them before you put it up on the specials board.

With the recent additions to the team (Doug Rodrigues, Ryan Kelly) and the menu evolving, are you still going to be focusing on game?
Absolutely. What's fun is that they too have an interest in it, and all three of us bring style, tone, and elements that hit together very nicely. We hit three notes in a chord instead of just one. The idea of this is to have fun with cooking, and it's just got a lot of talented minds around it. It becomes a symphony. It's a lot of fun.

Do you find that you have some customers who are initially resistant to the more exotic things, but you've been able to change their mind?
Yes, and it's been very interesting to watch. There are people who wouldn't touch it in the beginning. There's one guy who was vegetarian and wouldn't touch it, and then I told him how they hunt the antelope and break it down and clean it, and he then said that he was willing to eat it because of how it was humanely raised and slaughtered. And there's still enough room around it; you don't have to come here just for antelope, although the game is a focal point and has truly been one of my favorite parts of it, encouraging me to look dig deeper into research.

What's the most popular game that you serve?
When we have the yak, it sells out in seconds. Antelope — that's one that everybody is comfortable with. The ostrich goes very well; we've done it both as a carpaccio and as a filet with all sorts of different approaches. A lot of people do request venison because they are hunters and they want to have it, but the kangaroo, the yak — the wilder, the better.

What's your personal favorite?
That's a tough one. I do like antelope. The antelope ribs are fun to cook — it's just a rich, rich kind of meat. Strangely I like the kangaroo best as a tartare. I like the raw, iron-rich flavor, and then adding some spice to it is a lot of fun. We've done a serrano, yuzu, and marcona almond gremolata type of thing with it that lifted it up and gave it a little heat.

A few other people I've spoken to recently have brought up bear. Have you had it?
I have — a friend brought it to me. That's the interesting thing, too. People will bring me things to try, and I'm like, "Ok...I haven't even eaten breakfast yet, but I'll try the bear." When you're cooking it for the restaurant, you know where it's been, but when someone says, "My buddy killed a bear and I just made you this," it's like…"Here we go. I have to, 'cause I love this guy, but I don't know where this bear came from, and I don't know what I'm playing with." I haven't cooked bear here yet, but when I tasted it, it was very, very rich — and not oily, but tasting all of oil. Rich. I'll probably pull that in towards the fall and winter times once we get into the heartier meals. What I've researched on it is that it can really be two different flavors, one coming out of hibernation and one going into hibernation.

So, what's this binder you've got here? [Poe has a binder stuffed full of papers, with a picture of an ostrich on the front.]
We've been building this book up since day one. It's got everything we've learned. There's a handout I give to the staff that details the flavors and textures of all these different animals, and we also do pre-meal every day with as many dishes as possible to give them a good foundation of what each meat tastes like so they're educated on it. We've saved everything we've ever come across on the different cuts, how to pick it, how to clean it, how to choose it. That's kind of what we teach our staff on a daily basis.

What would you say to people who are looking to get more into game?
Just have fun with it. Experiment. Some meats are better with marinades. Some meats break the rules. Maybe it doesn't have to be a 12-hour marinade — it might need to be a 24-hour marinade or it might need to be a one-hour marinade, and then a spice rub that goes on at the grill. Or it might not need a marinade at all. With the llama, for example, I don't do much to it because I want you to taste the llama. The first llama I ever tried was in Peru, and they had smoked it. If you're coming in to try the llama, I'm going to expose you to that and then accent it with the sides and the sauces. So, experiment.
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· All coverage of The Five Days of Meat on Eater [~EBOS~]

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