In South Carolina, wild boars are so despised by the locals that even fish and wildlife authorities virtually ignore them. They are classified as "feral'' and thus offered little protection from human predation. On private land there is no mandated season for boar hunting; no set limit on size or age or sex exists. An out-of-state hunter need only purchase a $40 small-game permit to go after them, the same document required to shoot a squirrel. This reflects a near-universal consensus that the hogs are a complete menace.
Until now my twin passions for hunting/fishing and eating extra-ordinarily well-prepared food have had few intersecting points. The back page of hook-and-bullet journals – where the recipes generally hide – call for a frying pan, bread crumbs, butter, and some paprika (if you dare), and only a few chefs I know do more than fly-fish. What, I wondered, would happen if I got a chef in the swamp and a boar hunter in the kitchen? Take two experts, give each a chance to demonstrate his art, then tear each out of his comfortable world? Good fun, as I know just enough about both disciplines to be dangerous.
When I get the invitation to join Oliver "Bubsy" Thames on a two-day boar hunt at his hunting club on an island in the Santee Delta, just outside McClellanville, South Carolina, I ask if I can bring a plus-one. "A fancy New York chef," I declare.
"The more the merrier," replies Bubsy, whose generous spirit is only the most obvious of his genteel gifts.
McClellanville is a tight community with a declining shrimp fishery and a population of 500 people. A nearby employer, ArcelorMittal Georgetown, temporarily shuttered its steel facility in the fall. Measured in physical miles, by all rights the town should be an exurb of Charleston. It is not. There are no art galleries or antique stores, only the Bulls Bay Supply, simply called "the hardware" by locals.
The chef I brought with me is Brad Farmerie. I met him over a pint of pig blood in his kitchen a few years back. I had reached out to a handful of professionals, needing a modest amount of the substance for my first effort at boudin noir, a sausage popularized in France made of (among other things) pork, apple, garlic, duck fat, heavy cream, porcini powder, rum, and plenty of blood. "Come by any Thursday morning," he had said. "That's marginal meat day at the restaurant, and I always have some extra pig blood hanging around."
Farmerie has a gentle manner and a clear-eyed intensity that upon first meeting him are tough to reconcile. He is old-school in the best way. Born in Pittsburgh, he threw over mechanical engineering at Penn State for a life in the kitchen. He wandered, exploring and experimenting with the cuisines of the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and North Africa, before ending up in London. There he got serious. He received a Grand Diplome (his ticket to ride) from the fabled Le Cordon Bleu academy and spent eight years working for some of the most influential chefs in the vanguard of London's culinary revolution. Since moving to New York six years ago, he has helped open two very successful restaurants: Public and, just around the corner, Double Crown.
I've heard Farmerie's food described as free-spirited fusion, just the kind of flouncy foodspeak that starts me heading for the door. Call it what you want, there isn't a flavor combination he won't try when looking for unexplored ways to prepare even the most worked-over hunk of protein. Though he hasn't said much about the meal he planned to cook in South Carolina, he has let on that a boar's liver would be an essential ingredient in the dessert.