Story by Shannon Wianecki
Photos by Sean Hower
Intimacy with what we consume contributes to our wholeness
The morning had a mythic quality. Mist bathed the southeast- ern slope of Haleakala and a rainbow hovered over the tree line, offering a sort of benediction. Dressed in camouflage, Brian Etheredge threaded through the tall grass followed by his friend and cooking partner at Capische restaurant, Chris Kulis.
Between them, the award-winning chefs had dressed scores of animals, many more than most hunters. Kulis had spent the past few years sharpening his charcuterie skills, buying whole pigs from Ma-lama Farms and using everything from tail to snout to make delectable salami, sausages, meatballs and more. But the chef had yet to dispatch an animal himself. The gravity of taking a life was not lost on the new father, who left his baby and her mother at home to come along on this overnight excursion.
The hunting trip was a fundraiser. Robin Kean, a commercial property manager and avid hunter, came up with the idea four years ago. Wanting to blend his passion for both hunting and charity work, he figured that a guided hunt on scenic Kaupo Ranch could fetch top dollar as an auction item. To further entice bidders, he contacted Brian Etheredge—owner of one of Maui’s best restaurants and an experienced hunter himself and asked the chef to add a catered gourmet dinner to the package. Etheredge readily agreed. The team has since hosted five charity hunts and raised $16,000 for the Hawaiian Islands Land Trust and Grow Some Good, a school garden initiative.
This year’s hunt couldn’t have gone better.The winning bidder, Jason Davis from Colorado, arrived with his family Thursday night. On Friday, he bagged a big buck, a goat, and a pig—the “Kaupo- Grand Slam.”
“We’re going to need a bigger cooler,” he joked to his wife, Elizabeth, as he and the other men skinned the animals. The hunting party included the Davises, Kean, a few assistant guides and the two chefs.There was more than enough enough for everyone at the Kaupo Ranch cabin, a gracious home built in 1929 and decorated with relics from past hunting adventures.This weekend’s hunters were after meat, not trophies, but when Davis took down a buck with a perfect set of antlers, his smile grew at least five watts brighter.
Axis deer are beautiful animals with tawny, white-spotted pelts. Sadly, they’re invasive pests on Maui. Wild herds grow faster than hunters can cull them and hungry deer ravage island farms, ranch- lands and wilderness areas. Davis was delighted to help thin the population while procuring food for his family. “Axis deer are hunted by tigers in India, so they’re smart,” he said.“It’s a fun, hard hunt. I’m lucky to have great guides.” But Kean, who grew rambling through the back forty at Kaupo Ranch, knew the animals’ habits. He led his party straight into their midst.
Dinner that night was a feast of heroic proportions. Etheredge lorded over the outdoor barbecue like Prometheus, grilling venison shot at the ranch the week before. Flames leapt high as the sunlight faded on the horizon. Inside, he and Kulis maneuvered in the cramped vintage kitchen with ease.
They brought out dish after mouthwatering dish, covering every inch of the massive dining room table. First came platters piled with cheeses and charcuterie: Hawaiian chili soppressata and prosciutto that Kulis had been waiting a year to debut. Then came kale salad with fat hearts of palm and guava vinaigrette, steamy black forbidden rice, red curry studded with Kona lobster, pork ribs slathered in mustard, and a salt-encrusted ‘o-pakapaka caught just offshore.
The chefs used local ingredients to handcraft everything from the pickled fennel agrodolce to the ono brandade, an Old World purée of salted ono, garlic, and potato emulsified with olive oil. It was an overwhelming offering—one fully appreciated by the famished huntsmen.They nearly fought over the venison meatballs. Heaped atop fennel linguine and sprinkled with Parmesan reggiano shavings, the savory little globes were so good that half the table groaned while eating them. Same with the scrumptious trotters, which were “as gluttonous as it gets,” according to Kulis, who made them out of Ma-lama Farms pigs’ feet, tongue and cheek. Elizabeth especially liked these, and requested recipes to take home along with her freezer full of fresh meat. But best of all was the grilled venison loin: as tender and noble as filet mignon, only more flavorful.
The chefs enjoyed the rare chance to pull up chairs and dine with old and new friends.The conversation ranged from exploits in the kitchen to near-misses in the field. Davis expressed gratitude for the wild-harvested food.“I know who touched this meat,” he said. “I know it didn’t sit in a bunch of chemicals for weeks before it got shipped.”
As they ate, they waxed philosophic: meat should always be pro- cured this way, with consciousness and care for the animal and the environment. We are what we eat, and an intimacy with what we consume—where it comes from and how it lived—contributes to our wholeness. Robin reflected on his first hunt, at age 26.“I thought I’d have more remorse than I did,” he said.“But when I was out there, I discovered senses I didn’t know I had. It made me realize that this is something humans are made for.”
Kean and Etheredge both hunt with bows, having swapped bullets for arrows years ago. Davis marveled that his “Grand Slam” included his first bow kill—a goat he felled with an arrow. Bow hunting requires greater tracking and stalking skills. It’s not as violent; a good shot passes cleanly through the animal with less kinetic energy.“When a gun hunter sees an animal, the hunt is over,” said Etheredge.“When a bow hunter sees an animal, the hunt begins.”
For dessert, he and Kulis shared sweets from The Market in Wailea, their new gourmet deli. Though full, everyone dug spoons into the tiny Mason jars filled with liliko‘i curd, Valrhona chocolate, and dulce de leche. It was well after midnight by the time the bone-tired celebrants drifted off into their separate rooms.
Before dawn broke the next morning, the men set out to pursue their favorite game. Yesterday’s fine haul meant that today’s hunt was pressure-free, a bonus round. Kulis shadowed Etheredge, who stopped to perform a personal ritual before entering the hunting grounds. Removing his gloves, he touched his fingers to the earth. He asked for permission from the land, and those that came before him, to take an animal. He asked for a safe flight for his arrow.
The men followed the sporadic barks of deer through the brush, and soon found a large herd grazing in a meadow.The rut (mating season) was in full force; the bucks were crazed. The largest males bellowed, stamped and rammed their racks against one another. Though 50 does sounded alarms as the hunters approached, the bucks focused on their fight.
The men stood on a small ridge, a light wind at their back. Kulis hung behind as Etheredge hunkered down into the grass and crawled to the shelter of a nearby tree. He stood and watched a healthy doe skirt the edge of the herd. He drew back his bow.The animal stepped into range.The hunter held his breath and released the arrow. Startled, the herd flew towards the coastline, leaving behind a large doe lying still in the grass.
A nearly invisible blood trail showed that the archer’s shot was true; she hadn’t run more than 15 feet before falling. Etheredge petted the doe’s soft fur and thanked her for feeding his family. Hefting her onto his shoulders, he carried her back to camp.