Maui Nui Venison Is Putting Maui’s Invasive Deer on the Menu – Bon Appetit

We stopped at a light signal I didn’t notice. The UTV headlights went dark and I sat frozen in anticipation. Deer eyes blinked in the distance. Stars blinked in the sky. A shot rang out. A shooting star streaked across the sky. And without fanfare, the UTVs revved up to search for the carcass. When the team found it, they hoisted it onto Jake’s shoulders; the deer was heavy, still, and warm as he traversed through dewy grass to lay it on the bed of our vehicle. The moment was peaceful, reverent. “We are carrying it to the next stage of its life,” Jake reflected.

In the course of one evening, Maui Nui Venison hunts, processes, and butchers under the careful examination of the USDA inspector. At night, the deer are relaxed, unable to detect the harvesting team in the dark. The use of FLIR allows the team to spot the animals from afar and harvest without spooking them. The deer die quick, stress-free deaths. This leads to beautifully tender meat, lacking the gamey flavor usually found in venison. “Stress plays a huge factor in terms of how the meat ultimately tastes,” said Bryan Mayer, chief venison officer at Maui Nui Venison, when I visited him the day before the hunt. If an animal is tense before or during harvest, its glycogen stores are depleted, which means “you have less lactic acid to break down the muscle and make it tender.”

Before the hunt, Mayer prepared a myriad of cuts for me and Jake: butterflied leg, strip loin, tenderloin, sirloin, rib chops, and a smash burger (arguably the best I’ve ever eaten). All dusted with salt a day earlier, flash-seared on cast iron, and basted with ghee, rosemary, sage, and thyme. Maui Nui Venison sells the entire animal online, as bone broth, individual organs, ground meat, jerky, and even pet treats. To make its products more accessible for locals, the company offers packs at a discount. For communities in need, it distributes venison through food banks and other organizations addressing food insecurity.

Restaurant chefs across Hawai‘i and even some on the mainland, including those at Alinea, Saison, and The French Laundry, are putting Maui Nui’s venison on their menus. At Fairmont Kea Lani’s Kō restaurant in Maui, executive chef Jonathan Pasion pays tribute to the deer in two preparations. His appetizer is a thinly sliced grilled striploin placed atop a Moloka‘i sweet potato bao bun with pickled green papaya and calamansi curd. As a special, Pasion sous vides a rack of ribs and lays it over coconut Filipino adobo with ‘ulu tater tots, Maui sweet onion soubise, and Upcountry persimmon. “The method in which Maui Nui Venison harvests, processes and sells the venison presents a great opportunity to educate our local community on how to foster sustainable living,” Pasion told me.

Perry Bateman, executive chef at Mama’s Fish House in Maui, and whose tenure is approaching 35 years, includes the venison on his menu to honor the island’s food resources and to support Maui Nui, which he refers to as a regulator. “Jake and …….


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