Wild Beast Feast Serves Up a Different Taste of Denton
by Paul Bottoni
Denton Live July-Dec 2012
Grills are sizzling and the smell of meat – venison and elk sausage, alligator and wild boar – is in the air. The Wild Beast Feast competition is on, and Dan Proctor is cooking up his venison chili recipe, making a third try at the celebrated Best of Beast title, this time with his 16-year-old son at his side. The venison, leaner and less marbled than beef, is from a deer he shot himself with his Remington 270 hunting rifle. “Venison has a twang to it,” he says. The chili is a secret recipe: Not four-alarm; that’s not his style. “I’ve never been a fan of really hot or spicy foods,” Dan says. “My chili is not spicy, just flavorful.”
Amy Hawkins, owner of the Jupiter House coffee shop with husband Joey, arrives early – long before the crowds of tasters – to get her entry started: alligator fritters dusted in powder sugar to complement the shop’s iced coffee. Amy’s team, the Jupiter House Space Gators, is determined to win with their rather odd concoction. “It’s actually like an alligator donut,” Amy confides. “We had the idea of covering it with powdered sugar to make it sweet to go with the iced coffee. The actual fritter itself was sweet, but you could definitely taste the alligator in it. It gave the fritter a chewy texture and gamey flavor.”
The Beast Feast is a September tradition, put on by the Greater Denton Arts Council each of the past five years. The barbecue features out-of-the-ordinary tastes, ranging from elk sausage sliders to grilled swine belly. (Have no fear. All are FDA/USDA approved). Eighteen to 22 cooking teams compete in the event, vying for the title of “Best of the Beast.” Some teams christen themselves with tongue-in-cheek names: Team Livin’ the High Life, Team Big Fatty and Team Meat Guns. The 2011 participants included local restaurant owners such as Amy and Denton residents like Dan eager for a day of glory for homemade recipes. And then there are pros like chef Tim Love. Tim, an Iron Chef America winner and owner of Denton burger joint, The Love Shack, swept the competition last year.
Though the teams take the competition seriously, the trash talk is light-hearted. “We give each other a hard time,” Amy says. “We go try each other’s food and try to act like we don’t like it when we really do.” The Space Gators position themselves right by the gates, so they are one of the first stops.
Taste thrill-seekers crowd around the booths, watching the cooks whip up a fresh batch. “People love to stand there and watch,” Amy says. “I think it adds to the whole experience when you’re cooking there in front of them rather than bringing them a finished product and putting it on a tray.” The Space Gators decided to use alligator as their showcase ingredient in hopes of offering something Beast Feast patrons hadn’t tasted before – and for one other reason. “We were doing it to win,” Amy says.
The day’s laurels, however, go to Tim, who claimed the “Best of the Beast” title with his elk sausage sliders doused in foie gras and blueberry jam on sweet rolls. “Game and berries have always been a natural combo to each other,” Tim says. “You think of a burger. The elk would be the meat, the foie gras would be the cheese, and the blueberry would be the mayonnaise.” Instead of a trophy, Tim receives a shiny “Best of Beast” belt buckle emblazoned with the event’s mascot – a cowboy-attired armadillo. “I’m proud of that thing,” he says.
The winner is determined by the amount of cash in each team’s tip jar, tallied up near day’s end. “The majority of us were neck and neck. Looked like Love Shack blew everybody out,” Amy says. “Most had about $100 in it.
Love Shack had about $400 in theirs.”
Teams grilled under tents at the new Apogee Stadium at the University of North Texas last year while Thad Bonduris and the Fun Addix played ’70s and ’80s tunes. Every year, all the money raised – from the tip jars and a silent auction – goes to fund other events held by the Greater Denton Arts Council. “It’s a great event that helps support all the programs of the arts council,” says Margaret Chalfant, the event’s founder. “Everything that goes into it goes back out into the community. It’s one of our major fundraisers.”
The Beast Feast is for all ages – from college students to families. “I just love that part about Denton. It’s a family-friendly event while still serving beer,” says Amy. Michelle Owen went with her two young children, not knowing what to expect. It was their first time attending Denton’s annual exotic cookout. They tasted everything from an upscale, alfredo-laden macaroni and cheese to elk backstrap. “My daughter really liked the mac and cheese. So did I,” Michelle recalls. “The lady was really nice because it was near the end and she gave us a big tub of it to take.”
The 2012 Beast Feast will return to the North Texas State Fairgrounds this September and at least one cook already knows he will be there – Tim Love. “Absolutely I’ll be there. I gotta defend my title.”
[just the facts ]
What: 6th annual Wild Beast Feast, Denton’s version of Texas barbecue with teams cooking up wild game (all USDA/FDA approved) in hopes of winning the title, “Best of the Beast.”
Where: North Texas State Fairgrounds
When: Sept. 29, 2012, 6-10 p.m.
Admission: Adults $20
Children (4 -12) $5
Children under 4 years old free
Hosted by: Greater Denton Arts Council to benefit the arts
For details: Visit dentonarts.com
Photos by Melissa Mayer