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Edible Taxidermy 

Colleges are starting to think about sustainability in food service. For one night at NIC, this includes locally sourced wild animals

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North Idaho College has got game. No, we’re not talking sports here (although the little college by the lake is boasting a sweet 15-2 men’s basketball record this season). We’re talking wild game, as in deer, duck, and buffalo.

Celebrating its 11th year, this NIC fundraiser for the Alumni Association continues to grow in popularity. For $65 ($60 for Association members), foodies are treated to a five-course meal (and excellent people-watching opportunities).

In the whole educational-and-fundraising spirit, there are also silent-auction gift baskets, such as artwork, a whitewater rafting trip and a pair of tennis shoes autographed by former Gonzaga University and NBA star Dan Dickau. (B-ball trivia: He wears one size-9 shoe and one size-10.) As always, there will be taxidermy displays on loan from the Idaho Fish and Game Department and similar agencies, in case you want to know what dinner looked like before it landed on your plate.

While past menus have stretched the imagination to exotics like alligator, kangaroo and ostrich, this year’s menu tames the “wild” in Wild Game Feast.

“I wanted to keep game meats in the menu,” says chef Eddie Nelson, “but I will be incorporating things like steelhead gravlax and poached shrimp canapés to add some more familiar flavors that may appeal to more people.”

A graduate of the Western Culinary Institute, Nelson has been with NIC since 2008 (the year of his first Feast, which featured venison). “Since I wanted to stay away from some of the big, heavy flavors,” he says, “I decided to do a lighter roast quail for our main course this year.”

Preceding the quail is salad and crayfish bisque, while dessert is a white chocolate mousse tart topped with huckleberries (Idaho’s official state fruit) and a Grand Marnier chocolate sauce. While diners are milling about — hopefully bidding on auction items — they can nibble on Swedish-style buffalo meatballs, duck sausage-stuffed mushrooms, shrimp canapés and steelhead gravlax (that’s salt-cured trout) with bagels and cream cheese.

The inclusion of more seafood dishes is a nice twist this year and reflects Nelson’s interest in working with fish. It also reflects his interest in trying to shift the focus to a more regional approach.

“Living in the Inland Northwest gives us some great opportunities to create a great local food culture, especially with game meats,” says Nelson, who sources meat from Oregon, produce from Spokane and everything else from Food Services of America. “We are starting to see a lot of sustainability trends in College Food Services, and part of that is using our local resources to a much greater extent.”

Another goal, says Nelson, is to “try to keep the menu focused on regional food, with the thought that anyone can obtain these items and cook a great meal for themselves.”

His advice to would-be game-meat chefs? “By their very nature, game meats are very lean and high in protein,” says Nelson. “In almost all cases, either under- or over-cooking game meats is a very easy thing to do, and will usually get you in the most trouble.” A little easier, says Nelson, are birds, “which act a little bit more like chicken — but where chicken has more of a flat flavor, game birds tend to be much more vibrant in their flavor.”

Nelson’s other challenges include the sheer volume of preparing somewhere between 150 and 200 orders of the same item. “It is easy to get one thing done perfectly, but it takes a little bit more skill to get 150 items done perfectly at the same time.” Fortunately, Nelson has 24 years’ experience from prep cook to executive chef. And, he says, “It does help to have a great staff to work with.”

Chow down at the Wild Game Feast on Saturday, Jan. 23, at 7 pm (with social hour at 5:30 pm) at NIC’s Edminster Student Union Bldg., 1000 W. Garden Ave., Coeur d’Alene. Tickets: $65; $60, for NIC Alumni Association members. Visit nic.edu/alumni or call (208) 769-5978.

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