Where does Alice Waters get the succulent gamebirds served at Chez Panisse?
She was Hoffman Gamebirds' only restaurant customer from 1985 to 1993! She continues to be a steady customer, but the Hoffmans have expanded their customer base to include other top restaurants in San Francisco, the Napa Valley, Chicago, Miami and Newport Beach, as well as their avid clientele at the Saturday San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market.
How the Hoffman's Got into Business
The Hoffmans didn't start out in the business of growing birds for restaurants or for the consumer market. The name of their company, Hoffman Gamebirds, only gives a slight hint as to their original business. But until you talk with them, the full story doesn't come together.
From 1979, the Hoffman family, Bud, Ruth and their son Joe, raised gamebirds (pheasants and chukar partridges) for the State of California Department of Fish & Game. They sold young male birds to the State to be released for the hunting season. Since it was illegal for hunters to shoot any female birds, the Department of Fish & Game had little interest in buying the female birds from the Hoffmans, though they were obliged to take some for breeding in the wild. That left the Hoffmans with a lot of female birds on their hands! Bud came up with the idea of selling the female birds to restaurants. He got in touch with Alice Waters as a start and for about 9 years, Chez Panisse was their only customer for the surplus females.
Increasingly competitive bidding for the State of California gamebird contract led the Hoffmans to consider shifting their business more in the direction of the restaurant and consumer market. But to do that, they had to offer a wider range of consumer-type birds. So beginning in 1993, they added chickens, Muscovy duck, two varieties of quail (Bob White and Coturnix) and rabbit to their repertoire and started selling to restaurants and at the Bay Areas farmers' markets.
Birds of a Feather
At their farm in the San Joaquin Valley, the Hoffmans raise about 100,000 birds a year in flight pens that measure 50' x 300'. All of the birds are raised from their own breeding stock. The feed is milled by a local feed mill to the Hoffman's specifications from fresh whole grains that contain no steroids or antibiotics. The birds are free to roam in the flight pens where they can also forage on native weeds and grasses that can grow up to 3-feet high inside the pen.
Most of the birds are available year-round, except for pheasant and chukar partridge which are available only November - January:
|Quail - boned or whole||
|Pheasant - fresh and smoked|
|Squab -32-day old pigeon with full
feathers, but hasn't flown yet
|Rabbit - whole|
|Muscovy Duck - whole|
Quail followed by chicken are the best sellers among the Hoffman's restaurant customers. But at the farmers' markets, chicken, duck and rabbit are most popular, followed by quail.
Their quail is fabulous and the Hoffmans are trying to encourage more customers to try them. A small quail takes only 7-8 minutes to cook and can be considered "fast-food". Mrs. Hoffman has some printed recipes that she hands out. Also, here's a very easy one:
- Buy a package of boned birds and cut the skin that keeps the bird whole so that the bird can lay flat.
- Make a marinade of soy sauce, grated fresh ginger and a little olive oil.
- Smother this over the birds an let them marinate for a few hours.
- Cook the birds in a very, very hot skillet about 2-3 minutes on each side. Don't cover the frying pan, because you'll want to quickly sear the birds and fry them over a high flame. I use a round frying screen which allows the heat and steam to escape while keeping the spatter off your stove.
The birds cooked this way are succulent and juicy. Plan for one bird per person and serve enough napkins for these finger-licking tidbits. They're truly d-e-l-i-c-i-o-u-s!
For another recipe using the Hoffmans' quail, go to Ditty's Sunday Supper Home Page.
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