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Woodland Trails: The 'wild game gourmet'

"Good eatin'" is the catch phrase that John Schumacher has made famous. In fact, he has become a sort of household name, thanks to his appearances on Ron Schara's outdoor TV show called "Minnesota Bound." I was able to spend some time with John Schumacher at the National Pheasant Forever Fest in St. Paul a while back.

Known as the "wild game gourmet" on Schara's show, John made his name in the kitchen. His biggest success was owning and operating Schumacher's Hotel in New Prague, Minn., where his name was built on good food and good service.

Becoming a gourmet chef is not a simple process, as Schumacher attested to. He learned how by attending the Culinary Institute of America to hone his skills. From there it was off to Dunwoody to become a retail baker in 1963. He was a cook for four years on nuclear submarines while spending his term of duty in the U.S. Navy. Basically he has been a professional "culinaryion" since he was 17. In fact, Schumacher told me that that is all he has ever done.

"I think it's a gift. Some people can play a piano. Some people can draw pictures. Some people can cook. Some people think they can cook but some people CAN cook! Cooking is self-discipline. When you have 500 people coming to your restaurant, you have to have 500 successes."

I asked Schumacher how he got started with Schara. "I started turkey hunting with Schara in 1979. And then we did some fishing trips and became friends. I helped Schara with some other stuff for his articles with his newspaper and then when he started his television I started with him there too."

I asked Schumacher to give the average guy a few tips when it comes to cooking wild game. "The first thing to do is to get rid of all the bone, all the fat and all the silver skin because that is the strong part. Unless you like the strong flavor. It's kind of like eating meat of pork chop next to the bone because that is the strong part where it has more flavor. A venison chop is strongest next to the bone, and many people will simply not like it because it is too gamey.

"Another thing is to remember that you need to thaw out frozen game in a refrigerator so you don't shock it because all that blood is the flavor. There's no fat in it so you have to cook it real quickly in hot oil or real slowly. Grilling it is almost impossible because you dry it out."

So what's Schumacher's favorite outdoor activity? "I like to hunt turkeys! I love to hunt turkey in the springtime. I like to hunt pheasants too. I am learning to fish more and I'm liking it a lot too."

Schumacher loves the outdoors and had a different slant about getting a message out to the public. "People need to neuter their cats. There are way too many feral cats out there that are great predators on songbirds, pheasants and other wild creatures."

While at the Pheasant Fest, Schumacher was set up in the Gander Mountain booth cooking pheasant soup. The smell of the "good eatin'" drew in people from all over the show. And Schumacher certainly has the gift of gab. A natural entertainer, he amazed the crowd with his jovial sense of humor and always-present smile and sarcastic wit.

Today Schumacher is going back to work as a result of a couple bad financial deals. The obvious way for him to get back in the saddle is to reopen his old restaurant.

"The restaurant has been closed for three years and I am going to reopen it. We are going to do wild game as well as doing a lighter, more of a roadhouse menu. That is a change from the very traditional, very upscale to a middle of the road and get in step with 2008!"

And you can bet that he will be sure you have plenty of "good eatin'" when you are there!