If you get a craving for caribou, a hankering for hippopotamus or a jones for giraffe, relax: All these exotic meats and more are available right here in the Valley.
Rick Worrilow, owner of Phoenix-based Gourmet Imports, sells "Everything from alligator to zebra," according to his business cards. He delivers to resorts, restaurants and retailers, satisfying customers’ whims for off-beat cuisine.
All the cuts are USDAapproved, and none of the species is even close to landing on the endangered list. A vegetarian and animal rights advocate, Worrilow won’t sell an animal if he is concerned about its status.
He also believes wild game is a better option for both the animals and the people who eat them.
"These guys, at least they get to run around free on the land, and they’re not hoarded into small areas," he said. "They live a nicer life, really, than the (domesticated) chickens and turkeys."
In terms of nutrition, the meat is leaner and has no antibiotics or hormones. Because it’s not airinjected like commercial meat, Worrilow said, you can eat less and feel fuller: "Six ounces will be enough if you’re used to eating a 12-ounce steak."
Tourists from Asia and the Middle East at area resorts drive the demand for more exotic items, he said, though they also enjoy indigenous items including wild boar, rattlesnake and antelope. Americans aren’t as adventurous — many have what he calls "the Bambi complex" — but wild game is popular on many menus.
"The ones that work well here are the ones you’re familiar with — primarily venison, buffalo and wild boar," he said. "On the poultry side, it’s basically three, and that is pheasant, squab and free-range duck."
Worrilow said some exotic meat, like alligator, has "a taste unto itself" that can’t be described. Others can be compared to other meats: Oryx tastes like antelope, antelope tastes like a rich venison and hippo tastes fishy.
Roger Carpenter, owner of Red Kangaroo Wines in Chandler, says kangaroo "tastes like a slightly gamey filet." He holds monthly kangaroo barbecue dinners at his store.
Chefs who buy game from Worrilow say it sells well. Wild boar is a big hit at Four Peaks Brewing Co. in Tempe and Scottsdale.
"We always sell out of it every time we do specials with it," said chef Arthur Craft.
The key, he said, is to incorporate it into dishes that are already familiar — burgers, meatloaf, chili, quesadillas, taquitos.
Some of the other meats he uses include buffalo, alligator (he deep-fries it) and goat, which he says is popular in Mexico, the Caribbean and Europe.
Dennis Delamater, chef at Citrus Cafe in Chandler, uses rabbit and venison in his French-inspired dishes. The reason most people don’t prepare wild game at home, he said, is because they’re not sure how to do it. If they try, they tend to overcook it.
"When you cook it mediumrare, it doesn’t have the gaminess," Delamater said. The exception is if it’s braised for several hours.
To o rder meat from Gourmet Imports, call (602) 863-1478.