Chef Bucks Tradition

Deer-for-Beef Switcheroo is fine by the Governor.

Joe Mahoney

Just before Thanksgiving every year since 1677, members of the Mattaponi and Pamunkey tribes have presented Virginia’s governor with delicacies from the wild in lieu of paying property taxes. Per the tribes’ original treaty with the British Crown, they agreed to deliver 20 beaver skins to Virginia’s executive mansion, wherever it is located. (Once upon a time, the governor lived in Williamsburg, remember.) In modern times, deer and turkey, hunted on the reservations in King William County, have served as currency for the taxes, and until last year, the game and fowl were politely passed on to a charitable organization.

Last year, though, Executive Mansion Chef Todd Schneider—who began his career as a waiter for Martha Stewart—was unaware that he was breaking tradition when he had the deer taken to the Mansion garage where he dressed it and prepared to cook it. “It was a gift to the Governor,” says Schneider. “I thought he should eat it.”

So two days after Thanksgiving, the Guv and family thought they were sitting down to filet mignon, but found it to be a tad, well, gamey. The governor rang Schneider in the kitchen. “They said it tasted a little different,” Schneider recalls. But once identified properly, the vittles were more than satisfactory to the McDonnells. In fact, the whole meal was such a hit with Virginia’s First Family that Schneider is planning a post-Thanksgiving redux this year. The rest of the menu will also be repeated: goat cheese escalloped potatoes and sautéed asparagus will accompany the deer filet, followed by crème brûlée cheesecake.

If you’re going to try it, Schneider has a word for the wise. The key to cooking venison, he says, is the marinade. His is a concoction that includes Worcestershire sauce, kosher salt and bourbon—the recipe for which is on the Executive Mansion’s website. What is the secret to Schneider’s sauce? Virginia-made bourbon. It’s the only kind used at the Mansion. Of course. 

ExecutiveMansion.Virginia.gov/ExecutiveChef

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