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“Wild Abundance” — Eating at the hunt club

Yesterday, I wrote about the book “First Shooting Light,” a collection of photos and essays from ArtsMemphis about duck clubs in Arkansas and Mississippi.

I told you that you can buy the book as a late Christmas gift at Bauman’s at Pavilion in the Park in Little Rock.

While you’re at Bauman’s, you might also consider picking up a copy of “Wild Abundance,” which also was published by ArtsMemphis and also was edited by the organization’s president, Susan Schadt.

“First Shooting Light” came out in 2008.

“Wild Abundance” was released last year. It contains beautiful photography by Memphis photographer Lisa Buser.

Here’s the concept: Take some of the South’s best chefs and put them in the region’s top hunting clubs. Team them up with club cooks and members. We all know that food is as important as hunting at these clubs.

Here’s the lineup:

1. John Besh of New Orleans (August, Domenica, La Provence, Luke, et al) visits the Bayou Club, which was founded in 1927 south of Intracoastal City, La. Members hunt ducks, fish for redfish and shoot skeet. One prominent member of the club is Paul McIlhenny, the president of the company that makes Tabasco. Besh joins forces with the club’s cook, Sylvia Hebert Nolan.

Remembering his childhood, Besh writes: “Our form of duck hunting was an arduous one that required commitment, paddling a pirogue for 45 minutes while wearing waders, with a large-headed, gregarious black lab perched in the front along with a heavy bag of decoys.”

2. Alex Grisanti, the chef and owner of Elfo’s in Germantown, Tenn., visits the Blackfish Hunting Club in Crittenden County. He teams up with the club’s cook, Betty Jean Williams, who has been at Blackfish for three decades. Williams grew up the eldest of 10 children in Stuttgart. She has picked cotton, worked in road construction, driven a tractor and driven an 18-wheeler. She has also raised 13 children.

“Cooking and eating are such an important part of hunting for me,” writes Grisanti, whose family has been cooking Italian food in Memphis for a century. “I eat every piece I catch or shoot. I love to cook wild game. We eat all the venison, the ducks, the doves and the crappie. At my hunting club, Caulk Island, a couple of the guys and I cook lunch and dinner every day. It’s a lot of fun. Hunting, fishing and cooking — for me it just doesn’t get any better.”

3. Our own Lee Richardson from Little Rock’s Capital Hotel visits Circle T, a club 13 miles from Stuttgart that’s owned by Chuck Smith of Memphis. At Circle T, Richardson teams up with Kevin Shockency, the executive chef at the Memphis Hunt and Polo Club.

“I spent my youth and, to some degree, found my professional calling at a deer hunting camp in Adams County, Miss.,” Richardson writes. “This place is a long way from the nearest paved road, remote and home to relatively undisturbed herds of deer and wood ducks and the occasional mallard. We had a pretty nice house with running water, some ranges lifted from a hotel in Natchez and plenty of heat. I had always thought of it as a well-outfitted camp. When it came to meals, it was a community affair with a loosely recognized instigator. We were just a bunch of rednecks cooking for ourselves.”

I had the pleasure of trying out some of Lee’s selections on Tuesday night at Ashley’s. And, yes, duck was on the menu.

“Like pork and the squeal, you can use just about everything on a duck but the quack,” he says.

4. Derek Emerson, the executive chef of Walker’s Drive-In and Local 463 Urban Kitchen in Jackson, Miss., visits the Fighting Bayou Hunting Club in the Mississippi Delta near the Leflore County-Sunflower County line. He joins forces with club cooks Rosie Mae Brown and Annie B. Hogan.

The huge clubhouse there can accommodate 40 guests in 18 bedrooms. Peyton and Eli Manning are regular visitors to the club.

“The club members have special rituals,” Emerson writes. “I could tell how much they love the tradition and sharing these customs with each other and their families.”

5. Donald Link of New Orleans (Cochon, Herbsaint, Cochon Butcher and Calcasieu) visits the Grande View Lodge in Creole, La., which is in Cameron Parish in the southwest part of the state. He joins forces there with club cook Blair Zuschlag.

Many of the guides at the club are Cajuns whose families have been raising cattle, farming, hunting and fishing in the area for generations.

“Hunting in the marshes can be a daunting experience if you’ve never done it,” Link writes. “I did as a kid, but it has certainly been a long time.”

6. John Currence of Oxford, Miss. (City Grocery, Boure, Big Bad Breakfast, et al), visits Mallard Rest in Webb, Miss., and joins forces with Vera Williams, the owner of the Webb Diner since 1988. Mallard Rest is owned by Memphis cotton merchant Billy Dunavant and covers 5,800 acres.

Here’s how Currence describes Williams: “Vera Williams cuts an imposing figure for a diminutive, 60-something Delta woman. She wears the look of someone who has fought for more sunrises than she ever thought of enjoying. She speaks softly but with authority. People listen intently when she talks and stand straighter than they normally would when in her presence.”

7. Kelly English of Restaurant Iris in Memphis visits Menasha Hunting & Fishing Club near Turrell. The club was founded in 1902, and the current clubhouse was built in 1974. He teams up with Rebecca Sims, who has lived at Menasha to cook and keep the clubhouse in order since 2003.

“The directions to Menasha read like many others: from the highway exit, wrap around to the service road, turn right at the largest telephone pole, cross the levee with the train tracks and follow the path until you see the camp. I’m sure I forgot about a fork in the road somewhere. That is where the similarities end between Menasha and all other camps trying to cast the shadows that this club does. This is not the converted school bus that I grew up hunting out of in Chipola, La., a little town on the banks of the Amite River in St. Helena Parish.”

8.  Karen Carrier of the Beauty Shop Restaurant & Lounge in Memphis (she began Automatic Slim’s Tonga Club in downtown Memphis in 1991 — it’s a favorite of mine just across the street from the Peabody Hotel — and sold it in 2008) visits Quail Hollow near Coffeeville, Miss. Quail Hollow is Billy Dunavant’s turkey and duck preserve. Carrier joins forces with Emma Lincoln, who operates a catering business in Memphis.

“My first encounter with Emma Mayweather Lincoln was at the Memphis home of Tommie and Billy Dunavant,” Carrier writes. “I was a guest at a gathering to introduce the concept of this fantastic book. As usual, I arrived late, not being able to find the driveway to the house. While I was making my way through the den, the wait staff was passing succulent nuggets that were so moist they melted in my mouth. I wasn’t sure what they were, but I knew I wanted more.”

They were Billy Dunavant’s favorite appetizer — fried wild turkey nuggets with horseradish cream dipping sauce.

9. Martha Foose, the famed Mississippi Delta chef who now lives at Tchula, visits the Ward Lake Hunting Club near Sherard, Miss. She cooks there with Chris Robinson of Memphis. The club covers 6,500 acres.

“On a dim January twilight’s last gleaming, I pulled down the spine of the levee running through the boggy bottoms of the Mississippi Delta,” Foose writes. “I pulled up to a modest camp house overlooking a cypress hole. Piled next to the front stairs were six walking sticks carved with intricate talismans. A sign, I supposed, that I had come to the right place.”

The book is filled with recipes that complement the photos and essays.

Here’s how Chris Camuto described it in Gray’s Sporting Journal: “A New Yorker by birth, I lit out for the South after college, following a romantic, writerly whim I never regretted. This move took me to Chincoteague Island and then Webb Island on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, where waterfowling has roots as deep and tangled as live oak, cedar and cypress.

“The most important consequence of Southern waterfowling, of course, is eating. … This beautifully illustrated cookbook anthology from the lower Mississippi Flyway will probably start out on the coffee table, being admired, and end up in the kitchen, being used.

“Like the best hunt-camp cooking, this book’s wild game recipes combine in stunning ways haute cusine and down-home table fare. You can’t beat the South for that. … (There’s) a bayouful of Deep South chefs who spill insider information on preparing duck poppers, sweet potato-stuffed duck, smothered pork belly, char-grilled oysters, crispy duck pizzette, chicken and dumplings, duck Bolognese and braised venison shanks, along with homespun trimmings like turnip greens, cornbread, fried quail, grits, hushpuppies and blueberry crunch. Anything there you don’t want to eat?”

I’m hungry now.

Merry Christmas.

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