This February at Prepkitchen Little Italy, the private dining room with its long wooden table and birch paper walls was transformed even further into a woodland dining scene. Imagine you had just rendezvoused with the rest of your hunting party after a day chasing down wild game. You take your seat in the warm light of late afternoon, under a big oak tree on the edge of a meadow. Surrounded by your companions, with the brisk country air filling with laughter and tales of the hunt, the food and drink begin to flow.
Hors d'oeuvres of rabbit spanakopita, scotch quail eggs, and rabbit liver parfait topped with bacon jam are followed by courses of venison, bison strip loin, pheasant pie, and foie profiteroles for dessert. Each course is accompanied by a lovingly prepared cocktail; some are light and refreshing, others are direct, aromatic and warming. All are paired impeccably with the delicate dishes of this celebrated wild game dinner.
Actually, I literally did none of the work to bring down and prepare the pheasant that braised for hours and was lovingly tucked under a blanket of flaky pastry crust made with duck fat and baked to toasty perfection. I didn't even ride around on my trusty hunting horse following the calls of baying hounds in the distance - not even for an hour before dinner. I just ambled in and sat down. But those of us that were around the table that night certainly felt like kings - and we ate and drank like them too!
The Wild Game Dinner was a collaboration between Prepkitchen's Adam Lockridge and Joanna Rockwell, and was inspired by what some might consider the least likely candidate for a fancy cocktail-paired dinner: Jägermeister.
Yep, that's right folks. There are more ways to drink Jäger than from a chilled shot glass, and its aromatic ingredients and rich history provided plenty of inspiration for the culinary adventure we experienced in the upper room. Adam Lockridge, bartender and General Manager at the restaurant, had the idea of doing a Jäger-themed dinner, and suggested the concept to Executive Chef Joanna Rockwell. "My only experience and association with Jäger was college outings and Jäger bombs," she admits. However, after research into the origins of the infamous liqueur, she developed the concept of the Wild Game Dinner.
For Jägermeister finds its origins in the Black Forest in Germany, where many of the herbs and spices for the original formula were gathered during its inception in the 1930's. The beverage would traditionally be taken with a hunting party and served as a refreshment after the hunt. The name "Jägermeister" when literally translated means "Hunting Master," a title for a high-ranking official in charge of hunting matters. Even the iconic deer whose antlers frame a glowing cross is a reference to the two patron saints of hunters, Saint Hubertus and Saint Eustace.
And when considering that Jägermeister is an herbal liqueur composed of 56 herbs, fruits, roots, and spices, why not explore the notes of citrus, licorice, anise, saffron, ginger, cloves, allspice, and juniper (among many, many others) with a menu all to itself?
Some Standout Pairings
Here's a bit of our take on a few courses during the meal that made a big impression:
One of the highlights for us was the welcoming cocktail - a refreshing, citrusy drink where the champagne brightened and balanced the rich flavors of Jägermeister Spice. It was perfect for coming back to and enjoying between each of the three appetizers lovingly laid out on a hardwood board. The richness of the scotch quail eggs, creaminess of rabbit liver parfait, and delicate bites of spanakopita were fantastic - but could have been a lot to take in without the bright, bubbly palate cleanser in between. The cocktail provided a refreshing space between each of the three samplings, and a great start to the meal (I was already kinda full after this!)
The main meat dish - bison strip loin - was something we thought might be paired with a dark, boozy drink. Yet the cocktail companion was tiki-style drink on pebbled ice, where Jäger added the complex aromatic spice component to rum, lemon, and vanilla. Extremely refreshing and a delight to drink, it paired admirably with what Joanna describes as a spring preparation of bison. "Bison, being an herbivore and grazing mostly on grass and shrub, was perfect to put on a green and meadow-looking plate," she says. And for sure, it was a perfect dish, complete with spring vegetables, a light and refreshing ricotta, and edible borage flowers, to go with the fresh, light cocktail that kept you moving through the dish and wanting more.
And then there was dessert. Wow. Joanna said that dessert is always challenging during long tasting dinners, as we fill up and become sated (and especially so when every dish has MEAT!). "I wanted to make sure it was worth everyone's while and overstuffed bellies." And she brought it! Foie gras was in every single ingredient in the dish. And as a special twist, the foie semifreddo in the middle was made with Behrenjager, a honey liqueur which Jägermeister no longer makes. The blood orange and caramel sauce rounded out a dish that was full of rich flavor, but as light as a puff of cloud on a spring afternoon.
What better cocktail to pair with dessert than one prepared as a digestif? This glorious little sipper had legs of its own, and was almost the exact inverse of the dessert it came with, which made it a perfect match. While the profiteroles were airy and easy to eat, the drink came in with a boozy punch to spice things up. The strong, pungeant flavors of Jägermeister, Crème de Cassis, Lemon & Salt were then calmed and cooled by the fluffy, creamy, whatever-the-foie that was on my fork.
A Fresh Look at Jägermeister
Jäger has long had a place in the American bar as a quick, cold shot, popularized by a longstanding campaign to promote the drink to mass-imbibing, college aged, party-crowd types. In recent years, however, the brand has been gaining traction in the craft cocktail community as a complex herbal liqueur that deserves re-consideration, thanks in part to people like Global Brand Ambassador Nils Boese, and San Diego's own Christopher Keech. You can thank Keech and a handful of pioneering bartenders right here in San Diego for putting Jäger back on the menu - and not in the "shots" category.
Pop in to Coin-Op, Polite Provisions, Soda & Swine (Liberty Station), or Prohibition to taste the Jäger cocktails on their menu. And if you find yourself sitting at the bar in front of Adam Lockridge at Prepkitchen, try any of the drinks he created for this amazing event. You won't be dissapointed.
Joanna Rockwell has got the supper club itch (there are rumblings about a wine pairing dinner in April), so be sure to follow Prepkitchen on Facebook and Instagram for news of future events, and subscribe to the mailing list for official updates.
Dinner Menu & Cocktail Pairings
Looking for details about the dishes? Read on, you foodies, you boozies, you lovely nerds:
- Hors d'oeurves: scotch quail eggs, rabbit spanakopita, and a rabbit liver mousse topped with bacon jam and a side of grilled toast, arranged in a forest setting complete with bird's nest, moss, stone, and hardwood serving board.
- Cocktail Pairing: The Forager - Jägermeister Spice, Peche Devigne, Angostura, Lemon Bitters & Cava
- Venison Two Ways: a play on a Jewish deli board, the venison carpaccio was seasoned in pastrami rub, then smoked pastrami-style. The venison tartare had capers, mustard, caraway, and picked red onion. Salmon caviar represented the lox component, and the dish was rounded out with rye crisp, dill, pickled beets, and crème fraîche.
- Cocktail Pairing: The Gatherer - Jägermeister, Englist Guard, Cream, Egg White, Orange Blossom, Lemon, Orange & Caraway Syrup
- Bison Strip Loin, with spring vegetables, beretta mushrooms, ricotta, and edible borage flowers.
- Cocktail Pairing: The Nomad - Jägermeister Spice, Pina Rum, Lemon Juice, Vanilla, & Angostura
- Pheasant Pie: most representative of Prepkitchen's style of cuisine - comforting and classic. Slow braised pigeon with parsnips and carrots, and a crust made with duck fat.
- Cocktail Pairing: The Hunter - Rittenhouse Rye, Jägermeister, Carrot Syrup, Lemon & Celery Bitters
- Dessert: Foie Profiteroles - with foie gras in every single ingredient, from the dough to the semifreddo in the middle to the caramel sauce to the dusting of sugar (yes, in the sugar).
- Cocktail Pairing: The Harvester - Jägermeister, Crème de Cassis, Lemon & Salt
Cheers, and Happy Hunting!