The Honker Is Cooked
According to popular opinion, the wild goose is a modern nuisance. The U.S. is the current migratory destination for about half of the world's twenty species, the most common of which is the Canadian goose or "honker" (also a derogatory nickname for Canadians themselves). But as natural predators and human hunters have become scarcer, flocks have grown to enormous proportions. Which means that every winter, fields, marshes, and plains, usually those that rim fresh water, are practically invaded by the creatures. It wouldn't be a problem if they didn't eat constantly, feeding on grasses that grow near the water; since what goes in must come out, a single goose produces about a pound of feces a day. That makes for a pretty rapid destruction of habitat, not to mention a dodgy walking experience.
Not that an inordinate load of crap has deterred the Goose Club from adopting the bird as its mascot. Launched in Switzerland in 2000 by international lawyer Peter Schroeder, this gastronomic guild has a mission statement as multipronged as a fork. First and foremost, Schroeder notes, is to promote the goose, a comestible that used to be treasured on both holiday and traditional menus but has, at least in the better restaurants of America and Europe, become somewhat scarce in comparison to birds like duck and turkey. "We started it at the Millennium," he explains. "We were holed up in the mountains [the Swiss Alps] and we wanted to do something special. We thought, nobody makes a goose anymore. So we decided, 'Let's have a goose.'"
Since the inaugural cooked goose, similar dinner gatherings were held in assorted stylish communities such as Ibiza, Moscow, and Cairo. Last spring the Goose Club met in Miami, where many of the society's members tend, like turkey vultures and French Canadians, to winter over. Schroeder, who lives in Miami, New York, and Switzerland, decided after that meal's success to make Miami the Goose Club's permanent base.
Metaphorically, however, the goose still represents the club's individual gastronomes, all of whom live both internationally and domestically. In short, the exclusive epicureans are what we used to call jet-setters, folks who have jobs or priorities that take them around the world; bank accounts in Switzerland and the Cayman Islands; summer homes designed like penthouses, winter homes designed like chalets, and portable homes designed like yachts; and a wide array of friends who also have penthouses and really big boats that they can borrow or visit. They tend to represent the globe, with nationalities ranging from Australian to Danish. Thus it's a crapshoot (pardon the pun) regarding attendance of the biannual Goose Club dinners.
"We run [the membership] as a database and send out invitations. Guests can't always make it. It's a lifestyle factor, the coincidence of when you meet and where you meet," Schroeder says. Unspoken, of course, is the "who you meet" part. In other words, like old-money society, you can't ask to belong to the Goose Club. You must be born to it -- which would make the oldest of any alumni product the age and sophistication of a toddler -- or by some other virtue, such as marrying or cooking well, be invited by another member into it.
Another thing you can't do is literally buy a ticket. The Goose Club dinners, in keeping with the double themes of voyaging and foraging, are sponsored by boutique businesses. "We look for newer suppliers, smaller vineyards," Schroeder says. In return for donating goods or services, these oft-fledging companies get public recognition and exposure to a wide assortment of potential clientele. One such company, Dutch and Delicious, which is based in Curaçao and has just opened offices in Davie, launched its Dutchee, a croqueta-type product, on the domestic market this past September. For the most recent Goose dinner, held a couple of weeks ago on the incomparable sands of Jack Penrod's Nikki Beach Club (which is rapidly expanding to about a dozen locations, including Saint-Tropez and Puerto Vallarta, worldwide), the company served goose confit Dutchees as appetizers. Had I not been fortunate enough to sample the crunchy treats there, no doubt I still would be thinking that a Dutchee is a diner who was unexpectedly required to split the bill with a cheapskate date.
Because the club will no longer be in international location rotation, Schroeder and fellow geese have determined that each meal will be hosted by a different restaurant chef who had himself immigrated to the U.S. from a foreign country. Nikki Beach's executive chef Brian Molloy springs from Ireland, and he was charged with cooking the proverbial goose in a manner consistent with his heritage. The result was a slick goose that had been boiled with parsnips and potatoes for 50 minutes to render the fat, and then stuffed with chestnuts and roasted for two-and-a-half hours. Side servings of vegetables cooked in the goose lard included the continually maligned Brussels sprouts, which Molloy calls "a poor man's dinner" -- a delicious if unintentional irony, considering the company we were keeping.
For Molloy and chefs like him, the club represents opportunities other than checking out who's in town. The association is primarily culinary, which allows the people who work in the industry to commune without the pressures of competition that there might be at festivals and benefits. "It's an association that we need to start. It's a great way for the younger chefs to meet and get involved with something," Molloy allows. "We share an awful lot, and we must share even more if we're serious and we want to progress as a destination [for foodies]. If I have the best meat man in town, I want you [the fellow chef] to have it too. Inferior fish? Spread the word, get it out of here."
Both Molloy's positive community attitude and his Brussels sprouts, cooked "from the heart," were a significant way to officially open the season, Goose Club-wise. A closing dinner, marking the point in time when snowbirds fly to Milan, will take place in the spring. Schroeder won't reveal which restaurant and chef will be doing the honors, but he hints it'll be an Asian theme.
He's also planning on escalating the group's gastronomic activities to include a goose hunt during the summer in Sweden or Iceland, after the season opens on August 22, as well as an inaugural nongoose-centered culinary outing. Come February, the Goose Club will be sailing in a regatta that brings a captain, a fisherman, and a chef together as a team. It's simple: The boat that catches, cooks, and serves a fish on board in under an hour wins. Later, back on shore, all the chefs will re-create their dishes for the dining delight -- and inevitable judgment -- of the club guests. Now if that event doesn't spark a whole bunch of fish stories to add to the budding Goose Club lore, then my name isn't Ishmael.
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