Roger Phillips: Local chef hunts, fishes, cooks and writes a book about it

Growing up in Southwest Idaho, Randy King’s idea of camp cooking was heating a can of chili, and he described Mountain Dew as a “food group.”

Last weekend during a bear hunt with his buddy, Steve Weston, in the Frank Church/River of No Return Wilderness, meals included pad Thai, brie and blueberry pancakes, and mushroom and jalapeno salmon.

How did he undergo such a radical dietary change? I talked to him earlier this week about that, and you can find out in King’s new book, “Chef in the Wild.”

The 34-year-old chef for Simplot corporation who lives in Nampa has written a combination cookbook and memoir.

“I guess you could say this book has been a lifetime in the making,” King said. “I’ve spent most of my life hunting and fishing and then, after being trained as a chef, I’ve found the perfect way to combine my love of food with my love of the West’s landscape and wildlife.”

Its recipes and a compilation of hunting and fishing stories are mostly rooted in Idaho. Recipes are created by King, so if you’re interested in adding flavor and cooking techniques to your culinary skills, he provides plenty of options.

He keeps them accessible to the average kitchen cook, so a person doesn’t have to run around town searching for exotic ingredients.

“I tried really hard not to do anything too extravagant,” he said.

The recipes are centered around game, including deer, elk, waterfowl, upland game, plus out-of-the ordinary critters such as a rock chuck, boar, frog legs, snails and more.

That also extends to the fish recipes, where there’s “almond crusted steelhead with Chilean barbacoa sauce” and “wild onion and mustard trout” alongside recipes for albacore tuna, surf perch and bait fish.

There are also interesting side dishes for “foragers” such as morels and dandelion salad, and chocolate shortbread and apricot and cherry cobbler for dessert.

There are exotic-sounding recipes, such “sesame fried goose with allspice pancakes and hoisin sauce,” as well as much simpler dishes.

I appreciated his “perfect venison backstrap,” which is a recipe that consists of salt, pepper and canola oil.

I’m an admitted meat-and-potatoes-style cook, but I’ve never found backstrap to need any more seasoning than that. It’s cool to see a trained chef agree.

King said his book follows in the tradition of chef Hank Shaw and hunter/author/cook Steven Rinella and others who’ve introduced people to hunting through cooking.

A growing number of people are interested in game as a healthy, organic alternative to factory-farmed animals, and they are turning to game as natural, locally produced food.

“Hunters were the original locavores on the meat end,” King said.

Being good at harvesting game is only part of being a good hunter. Treating the game with respect after the kill is an integral part of hunting. Turning that animal into a memorable meal is another important aspect that is sadly overlooked by some hunters who are more interested in the head than the body.

“I hate to disparage anybody, but I’ve never found a good recipe for horns,” King said.

His no-nonsense recipes with flare also coincide with his hunting style.

He’s a do-it-yourself guy, including a caribou hunt to Alaska. Asked to pick his favorite hunt, King said “whatever I do with my dad, which usually includes a long bow and mule deer.”

His favorite animal to cook?

“If I were to fill my freezer with one thing, it would be a young cow elk,” he said.

Aside from being delicious, he said, a cow elk provides enough meat to supply his family with protein and to experiment with new recipes.

The recipe he encourages everyone to try is “smashed quail with Mountain Dew ponzu.”

It’s pretty simple, except maybe getting the eight quail that are called for in the recipe. If your shooting is rusty, or your beloved Lab considers quail no more interesting than tweety birds, you can reduce the number by halves or quarters.

He said a memorable recipe needs two things: It needs to be delicious, and it needs a good story behind it.

King’s book is filled with those stories, so even if cooking isn’t your thing, the hunting and fishing stories still make it a good read.

As a bonus, if you’ve spent much time in Southwest Idaho, you will recognize many of the locations of his outings, including the Owyhees, Snake River, Boise River, Riggins and more.

King said his trip-of-a-lifetime was a self-guided caribou hunt in Alaska, and his dream hunt would be a trip to New Zealand because there are so many free-ranging, transplanted European deers that flourish, along with lots of wild, remote country in which to hunt them.

But King is also interested in overlooked outings, such as his self-described “grand slam” of Idaho rabbits, and fishing for catfish along the Snake River, and then turning them into a batch of fried catfish “po boy” sandwiches.

King’s hunting, fishing and cooking experiences all circle back to his parents, Larry and Diane King of Nampa.

He blended his dad’s love of hunting and cooking and his mom’s pheasant noodle soup and turned them into a lifetime passion for the outdoors and cooking into a profession.

“Dad, thank you for teaching me to hunt and to cook,” King wrote. “This book is all your fault.”

About the book

“Chef in the Wild” is published by Caxton Press in Nampa. It’s available at Caxtonpress.com, amazon.com, or at Rediscovered Books in Boise. Price is $21.95.