Chefs on the Range

A Hill Country hunting trip gives four big-city cooks a chance to stalk exotic game and upgrade the average bunkhouse meal.

It’s a cool, sunny afternoon in late fall, and Dean Fearing, one of the better-known chefs in America today, is cruising in a Jeep with businessman Mike Hughes and chef Robert Del Grande, hoping to get a shot at something on Hughes’s Broken Arrow Ranch, west of Kerrville.

Blond and fair, Fearing has eyes that almost seem to pop out of his head when he is enthusiastic about something. He leans forward in the Jeep, the better to see what game might be lurking on the sides of the rutted ranch road. Clutched in his hand is his deer rifle, a Marlin .30-30. It was a gift from his staff at the Mansion on Turtle Creek in Dallas.

Hughes, a burly, blue-eyed man in Levi’s and work boots, is driving. A Tennessee native, he once operated the London branch of a deep-sea-diving company that serviced off-shore oil wells. While in London, Hughes was struck by the amount of game consumed in Britain and on the Continent when little was available commercially in the United States.

Eight years ago, Hughes decided to take a less active role in the Houston-based diving business and spend more time with his family. He retuned to Texas, where he owned a portion of Broken Arrow, 6,000 acres of rocky, wooded Hill Country in three pieces of land, with 4,150 acres on the West Ranch, on which the group is hunting. At Broken Arrow and other ranches that belong to the Texas Wild Game Cooperative, a private corporation that he helped establish in 1983, Hughes harvests exotic game, and the meat is marketed under the Broken Arrow label to specialty food stores and restaurants.

Every year Hughes invites chefs from around the country to Broken Arrow for a few days of hunting—good business and a good time for Hughes, who admires chefs and enjoys food enormously. Today Del Grande, the chef at Cafe Annie in Houston, rides in the backseat. He doesn’t hunt. He just spots game and counsels Fearing. “I’m Dean’s patience,” he says. Del Grande is more contemplative, less excitable, than Fearing. It’s a nice play against type, for

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