Andy Waugh on why we should all eat more game.

Andy Waugh founded The Wild Game Co. in 2010 after moving to London from the Scottish Highlands and realising that there was a lack of good quality game available down south. Coming from a family of game butchers, he was in a good place to remedy the situation and it wasn’t long before he was dishing out venison burgers, pigeon, wild boar and pheasant at weekly markets and pop-up dining events across London.

Sourcing all his meat from Scottish Highland estates, The Wild Game Company has been featured in The Evening Standard, Time Out and on a number of foodie blogs and seems to have struck a chord amongst a public that is increasingly receptive to eating game.

This week, as The Wild Game Co. launched its second street food stall on Whitecross Market, we caught up with the venison-loving Andy to find out more.

I grew up in the very north Highlands of Scotland...
My dad started a business as a game butcher when I was born, mostly exporting to mainland Europe. But it wasn’t until I went to uni that I realised there were a lot of people who hadn’t tried venison. I took it as given that was what you ate at every meal.

As a student, my dad would fill up my freezer with venison... All my mates would come round and I’d cook. I learnt how to cook that way basically and everyone loved it!

After uni, I moved to London... I was working in finance when I found out that some of my local restaurants were struggling to get hold of venison. I suggested that they bought it off my dad and started getting it sent down to a couple of places.

One day I went to Broadway Market and fell in love with it... I spoke to the guys who were running it who said to send in an application for a stall. One of the previous stall holders had committed suicide so there was an opening. I made a promise not to do the same(!) and shortly afterwards opened my own stall there.

My family exports 80% of its meat overseas, which is ridiculous... We celebrate our whiskey and our lamb and our beef and then we just get rid of all our venison. The Norwegians and Germans and French lap it up though – they love it. Scottish venison is seen as the best in the world, but nobody knows about it here.

People have so many misconceptions about game and venison...
They think it’s hard to cook, that it’s very expensive or that it’s gamey and horrible to taste. But times are changing. I think it is possible now to get past the concept of game being ‘posh’ and make it available to everyone.

We source our meat from all over The Highlands... down to Pitlochry and then all the way up to the very north coast. Some estates are bigger than others. We try and make it as local as possible.

Why don’t supermarkets sell more game..? I don’t know, I think they’d rather sell horse meat! Actually, they do sell it, but generally they want consistency. The wild stuff that we sell isn’t perfect every time. Birds can be different sizes, ages, and taste different according to where we’ve sourced them from. Supermarkets want the perfect round apple every time.

Legislation has tightened up over the last ten years... You have to provide documents on who shot it, where it was shot, which square metre of land it was shot in, who gutted it and so on, so there’s a clear tracking system. It’s only in the last ten or fifteen years that they’ve started putting refrigerating systems onto all the estates – meat just used to just hang in sheds!

There’s definitely a demographic that won’t touch game... When I’m working the stall, I’ve always got my kilt on, so people will come up and speak to me. They’ve got great chat, but when I suggest that they try something, they’ll say no, they couldn’t possibly – that it’s too expensive for their tastes etc. I want to get over that and for it to become an everyday thing.

We’re just opening our second stall in Whitecross... The one we’ve got at the moment is basically a steak and burger place, but the new one is going to do more adventurous stuff like venison chile con carne; just really easy food, which can be quickly put together, but which tastes nice and is a bit more like what you’d get in a restaurant.

By the end of the year, I’d like to... have a butcher offering amazing meat, then have a meaty, game-focused restaurant alongside that. When I first started the street stall I wanted people to have, literally, a steak in one hand and packet of steak in the other, or their pheasant breast in one hand and their pheasant sandwich in the other.

I love venison because there are so many different ways of cooking it... Steak and chips with a bearnaise sauce is probably one of my favourite meals in the world, but if people are ever funny about game products, I always cook them pigeon breast with crispy chorizo, caramelised pear and balsamic syrup with salad. It takes twenty minutes and tastes amazing.

I’m a really keen cook and get so much satisfaction out of it... but when it comes to the restaurant, I’d rather have cooks in there who are highly trained and know how to do things properly.

My long-term goal is to open something up back home... I’ve got this ridiculous pipe dream to open up some kind of Michelin starred restaurant in north Scotland. I’d like to work with local producers to put the north of Scotland on the map and get people coming up there and spending money in the rural community. It’s a pretty dead place right now with not much going on.

I want The Wild Game Co to have a relationship with the Scottish Highlands... It would be great to get people going up there and shooting and being involved in the whole process.

My favourite food website is... probably the BBC – if I need a quick recipe, I know I can trust the BBC. Also my girlfriend works for them!

The Wild Game Company has a stall on Broadway Market in Hackney every Saturday and two stalls at the Whitecross lunch time market. Find out more about where you can try and buy Wild Game Co. produce on its website: wildgameco.co.uk

Emily Jenkinson

February 2013