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Hook & Barrel
A Lifestyle Magazine for Modern Outdoorsmen

lance lewis, tagged out kitchen

Chef Lance Lewis of ‘Tagged Out Kitchen’ Uses A Classic Culinary Education To Elevate & Educate Others About Wild Game

Lance Lewis was the only hunter among the 16 students in his culinary school, and that gave him an advantage. Growing up in the swamps of Louisiana, Lewis and his family hunted out of necessity to fill the freezer. Processing the harvest and preparing it for the kitchen table was part of the routine, but as he got older Lewis began to push the boundaries when it came to cooking wild game.

“Everyone has their uncle’s deer roast recipe that usually involves soaking it in buttermilk for 48 hours,” he says. “I wanted to explore just how high-end you can take it.”

Meet Lance Lewis of ‘Tagged Out Kitchen’

lance lewis, tagged out kitchen

While his roots in wild game cooking date back to his youth, life took Lewis in other directions. He served in the Navy and was deployed to Europe and the Persian Gulf aboard the USS George Washington. After that, he worked as an industrial controls engineer for 20 years until he got burned out and found respite in the kitchen.

In 2017, Lewis enrolled in the Cook Street School of Culinary Arts in Denver, where he found that his roots as a hunter gave him a different approach in the kitchen. There was more than just grabbing a cut of meat from the freezer and preparing it as a dish. For Lewis, he wanted to be hands-on through the entire process, from the harvest to the plate.

After graduating from culinary school, Lewis was hired by Cook Street as a chef instructor, teaching whole animal butchery courses. Many of his students were hunters who had a lot of questions and a genuine interest in learning. That’s when Lewis took his foray into the world of wild game cooking even further and launched Tagged Out Kitchen in 2019, teaching culinary instruction and butchering, utilizing wild game as the main dish.

High-End Wild Game

When it comes to wild game cuisine, however, Lewis isn’t simply pan-frying venison chops or tossing an elk steak on the grill. He is transforming rustic meals into gourmet creations and teaching how easy it is to capitalize on the savory flavors of wild game.

And it all goes back to his childhood roots where, if you were going to be a hunter you’d better know your way around the kitchen as well. “In Louisiana, you’re not worth your weight in anything if you don’t know how to make a squirrel roux. But elsewhere, I found that butchering and cooking wild game is actually a technical, culinary process that most people don’t know about,” Lewis says.

A popular component of Tagged Out Kitchen is the Field to Table workshop, an immersive educational experience that begins with the hunt and commences with butchering and cooking the harvest.

Education Is The Key

Hunters want to take their harvest full circle to the table, he says, so he expanded Tagged Out Kitchen to bring the lessons to them. Lewis travels the country hosting his Field to Table events at hunting clubs, ranches, and even corporate outings.

In order for it to work, however, there needed to be some certainties. Unlike Farm to Table events where the main dish is found right inside the barn, Lewis only holds his workshops at locations where there’s a good chance for a harvest. If there isn’t a kill, there’s nothing to cook.

So far, most of the Field to Table events have been held on ranches in Texas and private high-fence deer properties in Michigan and Wisconsin. Places where there are either plenty of tags, plenty of game or both.

Cull hunts on ranches managing their deer population, for example, pair well with Field to Table events. The harvest is a given and the abundance of meat offers ample opportunity to sharpen the knives and learn processing and prep under Lewis’ watchful eye.

High Success Hunts Make Great Learning Opportunities

“It all starts with a high success hunt, and Texas has no shortage of places like that,” he says. “There’s so much variety with game animals as well. You can have a hog and deer event, hog and turkey, deer and turkey, you name it. The variety in game species really broadens the experience.”

The menu features variety as well. Under Lewis’ guidance, participants transform the game they harvested into meals that can be eaten every day and technical, gourmet dishes, such as braised venison shanks. “I take pride in showing people the versatility of these proteins that are better than the meat you find in even the best butcher shops in the country. And it’s right outside your door. Just get it.”

There’s more that goes into Lewis’ events than shooting, cooking, and eating. Education is key, and when the lesson comes straight from a wild game master chef, there’s a lot to learn.

Waste Not, Want Not

lance lewis, tagged out kitchen

Lewis covers everything from locating the glands on a whitetail deer (don’t cut them!) to properly breaking down the carcass. He talks about how to care for the meat immediately after the harvest (keep it dry) and even how to prepare it for the freezer—something he learned long ago growing up in Louisiana.

“When I process venison, I like to keep the silver skin on but remove it once I thaw out the protein. The silver skin serves as a barrier for freezer burn,” he says.

Since he founded Tagged Out Kitchen, demand has grown rapidly. While the majority of the events focus on deer, hogs, or turkey, Lewis hopes to expand to other game species that get a bad rap at the dinner table. If you know how to properly process and cook the protein, anything can be transformed into a gourmet dish.

Nuance Is Key

A sage-raised antelope from the west shouldn’t be shunned in the kitchen, for example, and neither should the lowly squirrel. “I actually have a recipe for Squirrel Marsala that works great,” Lewis says. “The biggest thing is understanding the subtle nuances of the proteins and how to work with them.”

And never, ever waste anything.

“Ethics is about total utilization of that animal, from roasting the backstrap to making stock from the bones,” he says. “The true trophy of any hunt is found in the kitchen. That’s what I teach.”

Braised Elk Shank Recipe

lance lewis, tagged out kitchen

INGREDIENTS:

  • 4 medium elk shanks, each 11/4 to 11/2 lb.
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • About 1/2 cup plus 1 Tbsp. canola oil
  • 1/2 cup water or low-salt chicken stock
  • 6 cups yellow onions (about 3 large onions), cut into medium dice
  • 2 cups carrots (about 4 large), cut into medium dice
  • 2 cups leeks (about 2 large), cut into medium dice and rinsed well
  • 4 large garlic cloves, peeled and lightly crushed
  • 1 bouquet garni (6 thyme sprigs, 6 parsley stems, and 2 fresh bay leaves tied together into a bundle with butcher’s twine)
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
  • Finishing salt
  • Cooked polenta for serving (recipe below)

METHOD:

Preheat an oven to 275°F. Line a baking sheet with several layers of absorbent paper towels.

Rinse the elk shanks thoroughly under running water and pat them dry. Place the shanks on the paper towel-lined baking sheet and let them come to room temperature. This helps ensure even cooking and better searing.

Generously season the shanks with kosher salt and lightly dust them with all-purpose flour. Heat a large braising pan or Dutch oven over high heat, and pour in 1/2 cup canola oil. Once oil is heated and begins to ripple, sear the elk shanks until evenly browned on all sides. Remove and drain on paper towels. Repeat with the remaining shanks.

Remove excess fat from the pan. Add water, scrape off any browned bits, and then add onions, carrots, leeks, garlic, bouquet garni, 1 Tbsp. canola oil, and 1 tsp. kosher salt. Cook until slightly translucent. Pour in the red wine and simmer.

Place the seared elk shanks back into the pan, cover, and transfer to the oven. Bake for about 3 hours until tender.

Let the shanks rest for 30 minutes. Remove them to a serving dish and cover with foil to keep warm.

Strain the cooking liquid, discard the vegetables, and reduce the liquid in the pan. Add red wine vinegar and continue to simmer until slightly syrupy.

Strain the sauce and pour over the elk shanks. Season with finishing salt and pepper. Serve with polenta.

Cheesy Polenta Recipe

  • 4 cups water
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 2 Tbsp. butter (optional)
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

METHOD:

In a medium saucepan, bring the water and salt to a boil.

Gradually whisk in the cornmeal, stirring constantly to prevent lumps from forming.

Reduce the heat to low and cook the polenta, stirring frequently, for about 15-20 minutes, or until it thickens and the cornmeal is tender.

If desired, stir in the butter and grated Parmesan cheese for added flavor and creaminess.

Serve the polenta warm as a side dish or as a base for the main course.


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