Travis and Julie De Boer know something about wild game cooking.
The couple enjoys archery hunting big game, pursuing upland game birds and fly fishing on area rivers in their spare time, and they cook a wide range of dishes for a living.
They operate Canyon Ops, a guide service on the Snake and Grande Ronde rivers. In 2018, they opened the Anatone Trading Post and Cafe in Anatone, where patrons can get anything from a cheeseburger and fries to a smoked and seared tri-tip steak. The cafe serves dinner and lunch on weekdays and adds breakfast on the weekends. The cafe is open six days a week: Travis and Julie take Tuesdays off to either catch up on errands or head to the water or mountains to pursue fish and game.
Travis is a former U.S. Army Airborne Ranger. He attended culinary school after a military injury left him with the prospect of limited mobility with one of his arms. While in school, he worked in restaurants as a sous chef.
But his injury healed enough that he decided to ditch the stress of a cooking career for one guiding anglers in river canyons of the Northwest. He and Julie opened Guerrilla Guide Service and later changed the name to Canyon Ops Guiding Service. They often traveled to Alaska for part of the year to guide and work in remote lodges.
In May of last year they gave up the nomadic lifestyle and opened the restaurant at the former location of the Blue Mountain Cafe, as a complement to the guiding business. Travis meets clients at the cafe, and they take sack lunches with them on fishing trips. Other anglers and guides often stop there for a meal or just a beer after a hard day on the water, and Travis said the cafe is a favorite of locals and many who live in the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley.
“Our eclectic skill sets from traveling around and guiding all somehow came full circle and put us exactly where we are cut out to be,” he said. “It’s all been shockingly well received. It’s been overwhelmingly positive.”
When not working, they enjoy tinkering with recipes. On the next page are two of their favorites featuring wild game — a reverse-seared venison back strap with gorgonzola béchamel by Travis and a seared and braised chukar with carrot bisque by Julie.
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Reverse-seared deer or elk steak with a gorgonzola béchamel, a simple pan sauce
Travis De Boer recommends this technique for any quality red meat. The idea is to cook it low and slow in a smoker and then finish it with a high-temperature sear in a cast iron pan or broiler. He said the low and slow cook keeps the meat tender and imparts a smoky flavor, while the sear at the end adds a caramelized flavor and texture.
“I did this last night with a really tough piece of mule deer, and it fixed any and all problems the old girl had with regard to tenacious connective tissue,” he said. “It came out like filet mignon from a high-end specimen.”
Start by wrapping any high-quality game meat, preferably back strap, in bacon and put it in a smoker at about 170 degrees. Smoke until the steak attains an internal temperature of about 110 degrees. The initial cook can take an hour or two, depending on the thickness of the cut.
The next step is an important one that is often skipped — but don’t, he said. Rest the meat for about half an hour. When properly rested, sear the meat for one to two minutes per side or until you attain your desired level of doneness.
“I use a professional-grade broiler or if that’s not an option a good cast iron pan,” Travis said. “Most home barbecue grills do not achieve or maintain a hot enough environment for really pro-quality sear, so cast iron is a fantastic option.”
Let the finished steaks rest another five or 10 minutes before serving.
Gorganzola cream sauce
Pour 1 cup of heavy cream into a pan on medium-high heat and reduce, stirring “dang near constantly, as it likes to boil over.”
Season with salt to taste.
When the cream reduces enough to uniformly cover a spoon, add cup of gorgonzola (or your favorite blue cheese) and stir constantly until it is uniformly melted and thick enough to dip your steak into.
“It’s no secret that blue cheese can be a great complement to red meat, and this is especially so with lean wild game meats — a perfect match for a hard-earned treasure,” he said.
Pair with a good malbec.
Seared and braised chukar with carrot bisque and spicy Italian sausage
Season and brown, but do not fully cook, a chukar breast in a hot pan. Remove and set aside.
Saute 2 cups of carrots and half of a diced onion in butter. Add and brown spicy Italian sausage if desired.
Deglaze the browned bits in the pan (known as the fond) with ¼ cup of balsamic vinegar.
Before the vinegar reduces too far, add about 2 cups of water. Return the chukar to the pan, cover and braise for a few hours.
Remove the bird and sausage and set aside.
Remove the carrots and onions and place in blender. Add just enough liquid to blend mixture until it reaches the consistency of fine baby food.
Return mixture to pan with the remaining liquid and reduce until thickened, then add 1 cup of heavy cream. Reduce a bit more.
Plate the birds and smother in sauce.
Pair with an oaky chardonnay or a sweet riesling.