By Jim Raykie
Herald Executive Editor
It’s a long way from northern Canada’s Yukon Territory to Sharpsville. It’s 2,654 miles to be exact, and that’s how far caribou steaks traveled before ending up on a round of dinner plates at Muscarella’s Cafe Italia.
The wild-game dinner last week came, in large part, from a caribou weighing nearly 600 pounds. Greg Baker shot it on Labor Day during a hunting expedition with Kawdy Outfitters near Watson Lake in the Cassiar Mountains of northern British Columbia.
Little did the 1999 graduate of Sharpsville High School know when the steaks were shipped to him that they would star in a six-course dinner that included caribou cacciatore, caribou and red wine with pickled onions, creamy polenta, orzo pasta with wild mushrooms and spinach, and grilled asparagus.
The private home-style dinner with an Italian flair was the creation of Muscarella’s chef and co-owner Tim Patton, who delights in creating such dinners for his friends. Among others, they included Greg’s parents, Dr. Daniel and Kim Baker of South Pymatuning Township.
“Preparing the meal to enhance the natural favors of the meat without hiding or changing its flavor ... you want it to taste like caribou not just beef,” is the challenge in cooking such a dinner, according to Patton.
Baker, a surveyor and a graduate of Clarion University who lives in Pittsburgh, said, “Dad had mentioned before that Tim had cooked a venison dinner for them previously, so I was looking forward to this dinner. It is always interesting how different people prepare venison.”
“The food was very good, the steaks were cooked differently than how I cook them. I liked how Tim seared them in olive oil and then sautéed them in red wine. It gave them good taste, but left some of the gamey taste ... Caribou is very tender and is not overpowering like some venison.”
The bull was about 200 yards away when Greg shot him with a .338-caliber Winchester Magnum. After it was butchered on the spot by guides, all of the meat was placed into panyards – plastic boxes that are tied onto a frame that allows a horse to carry it.
The final leg of the trip to Sharpsville? “I got a phone call from a gentleman in Kalispell, Montana. He told me that he had hunted with the outfitter later in the season and that he had my caribou quarters,” Greg added. “The gentleman took the meat to a processor where it was processed into steaks and hamburger and then overnighted the steaks to me.” The chef enjoyed cooking the caribou as much as his guests enjoyed eating it.
“I always enjoy cooking different and unique foods that you may not see all the time. It helps keep me motivated and passionate in my career,” he added. “I guess creativity comes from the love of doing it. And I really enjoy cooking. I always admired and looked up to my grandmother (Jennie Muscarella Patton) and my mentor in the culinary world. She created that passion in me.”