I was happily surprised to find Tanya Alexander in the basement kitchen of Forage recently. I assumed she was still soaking up an experience of a lifetime in New Zealand. Tanya left weeks ago to sling hash for the U.S. Ski Team, and to take stunning Instagram photos. But here she was, back in Teton Valley, and her menu was intriguing. “How long will you be serving the rabbit?” I inquired. She promised it would be available through most of October, and I promised to return just to try it.
There are times when I wonder what it would be like to have the skill to harvest my own rabbit, dress it, and put it on my table. But here’s the thing: bunnies are cute. Rabbits are pets. Although smelly when kept in a cage (somewhat like a large guinea pig), rabbits are super adorable. I suppose what stops me from actually pursuing the slaughtering of a bunny, is really just the aesthetic value of its face.
This doesn’t stop me from wanting Tanya’s dish of rabbit in front of me. Like so many Westerners, if it is all done for me, I get to keep a safe distance from the reality of how the food actually becomes my meal. This chicken tastes delicious, but I’d rather not think about how it spent its life or how its untimely death has aided in my experience as a diner.
I once asked one of the proprietors of Snow Drift Farm in Victor if she felt any guilt over sending a cow to slaughter. At the time that I asked, she was standing right next to a cow that was on its way out. I thought the cow was cute. This is typical of me, to adore an animal unconditionally without any consideration for its function. Look at that adorable wolverine! C’mere, kitty, kitty, kitty…
She explained to me that this cow, on its way to the butcher, was simply another function of the farm itself. She was very matter of fact, and then stared at me as if to ask, “Why the questions? Get your shovel and go dig up that hounds tongue like the rest of the work share staff.”
My brief time spent at Snow Drift also caused me to cross paths with pigs. I was sorry I had to see the pigs when they were little. I didn’t think I would fall for it, because I do not regard full grown swine as particularly cute. But I saw those little pigs and thought, those pigs are adorable. And then I thought, those pigs are bacon. I got a little sad.
But here’s the thing – if I saw the bacon on a plate with no visual piglet association – I would eat it with no remorse. And I would be thinking about the article in the Jackson Hole Daily that was in front of me as I was eating it, not about what the pig may have looked like as a live creature. When you are not a part of the process, you are permitted to become detached.
kill the wabbit
As a kid in the 70s, I was subject to the charms of a very influential rabbit. Bugs Bunny – or – “Bugs” to those of us familiar, was by far my all time favorite animated smartass. Daffy and the gang were simply lesser players to the stellar Bugs.
There is a very good chance that my proclivity to become grounded for mouthing off to my father had something to do with Bugs Bunny. He was overconfident and indestructible, and he ran an ongoing commentary on the action that had me hooked.
Don’t think it hasn’t been a little slice of heaven, cuz it hasn’t.
Lady, if you don’t find a rabbit wearing lipstick amusing, then we ain’t got nothin’ to say to each other.
The fact that one of my earliest mentors was a talking cartoon bunny does not surprise me in the least. And if you know me, well…
Bugs joked about getting cooked, even. His rapport with Elmer Fudd, as hunter/prey included suggestions on how he would like to be served once he was shot.
Many times over, Bugs would address his own mortality and future role as a meal. I have to admit that I have wondered from a very young age what rabbit must taste like.
It’s even a bit hard to believe that in my time on this planet, rabbit has not crossed my taste buds. I’ve eaten squirrel, in addition to a variety of wild game that ranges from common to not so common: venison, elk, buffalo, antelope, ostrich, alligator.
I’ve had some weird, oddly textured seafood in my life, and I ate so much street vendor bulgogi in Korea that I have to assume that some of it must have been dog.
hail the rabbit.
Tanya gets her rabbit from Durham Ranch in Gillette, Wyoming. Looking at their website, one realizes quickly that this operation is intent on ensuring that the animals they are raising are very well taken care of. This is pretty refreshing, but I should have known this was the case when Tanya shared her supplier information with me. She is very in tune to the locavore movement, and is the type of chef and restaurant owner that takes care to investigate the origin of the food that she wishes to serve.
When a restaurant is operating in the Rocky Mountain West at over 6,000 feet in elevation, finding an operation like Durham Ranch could be considered quite lucky. Maybe you want to exercise the nearest geographic option for meat, which might be an outfit closer to a place like Pocatello, Idaho. But are their practices humane? Do they toss around phrases like Holistic Management? Durham Ranch does, and further, they want to educate the consumer on their approach:
Our family has been practicing sustainable ranching from day one—long before it became a trendy catchphrase. We use words like natural, holistic and sustainable because they are the founding principles by which we have run one of the largest bison ranches in North America.
Forage has always gone the extra mile to ensure that their food is as locally sourced as possible. This could mean getting vegetables from Snowdrift Farms in Victor, a mere ten miles away, or sourcing lamb from Sun Valley – two hundred and twenty five miles away, but still located within the state of Idaho. Gillette, Wyoming is still considered a part of the neighborhood at just under five hundred miles from Driggs.
The rabbit option on Forage’s menu was a satisfying, tasty meal. I joked with the sous chef as he prepared it, “Tastes like chicken, I presume.” His response was a firm “no”. This not only made me happy, but made my appetite grow. I wanted it to be different from anything I had ever tasted. It was.
The rabbit had a slight sweetness to it with a tight texture. This is a very lean meat. The way the rabbit had been celebrated in its final form was tremendous. It was coated with a seasoned butter that had, according to Tanya, at least a dozen spices. She ticked a couple off and then tilted her head to the side, “Well, maybe I won’t tell you all of them,” then smiled broadly. I can finally add rabbit to my list of meals tried and enjoyed – and I couldn’t be happier to have had the experience at one of my favorite local restaurants.