Fifteen years ago, nine Asheville hunters got together at Fine Friends Restaurant on Merrimon Avenue to clean out their freezers. They brought the yields of hunts past, and the restaurant's chef, Allen Dye, prepared the meat for them and served it in the restaurant's back dining room.
Today, years after Fine Friends closed, the annual game dinner has grown into a public event at The Crest Center, where Dye still prepares the meals. “The mission of what I'm trying to do with these things is introduce non-hunters to game meats,” he says. “At the outset, it was all hunters, but as we've gone along, it's a high percent of people who don't hunt, who don't know anything about that outdoor lifestyle, but are just fascinated by the concept.”
Dye isn't a hunter, but he likes to test his skills as a chef by working with game meat, and he finds that diners are receptive. “It's kind of like living on the edge, trying something they've never thought of trying before,” he says. “For me, there’s nothing as spiritual or organic as harvesting your own food, whether it’s wild mushrooms or wild trout or wild venison.”
The meat at the game dinner is farm-raised, not wild, because it’s illegal to sell wild-caught meat.
Still, the sentiments behind serving game meats remain. Dye sources farm-raised elk, venison, boar and turkey, as well as more familiar shrimp and trout, for the meals.
The dinner is a benefit for Backyard Bow Pro, an organization that helps landowners harvest nuisance deer and donate the meat to food banks. The program serves MANNA FoodBank here in Asheville, and it's taken off in 23 states with help from organizations such as Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry.
Joe Lasher, the founder of Backyard Bow Pro, is one of the original nine hunters who started the game dinners. He also works with Dye at M7 Events. One deer can provide about 200 meals, he says. Plus, he adds, venison is a truly local food source. “The game meats are following right behind the locally grown produce,” he says.
The 15th Annual Big Game Banquet takes place on Saturday, April 21, from 5 to 9:30 p.m. at the Crest Pavilion, 30 Ben Lippen School Road. Tickets cost $45 per person, and kids under 12 eat for free. The proceeds benefit Backyard Bow Pro. For tickets and more information, visit gamedinner.com.