When Grand Rapids Community College professor Bob Schultz gets the chance to meet with alumni in the far-flung corners of the globe, he learns more about the cuisines of other countries, and wonders how he can bring that back for his international cooking class.
This year, he returned from his travels with an unusual menu item for GRCC’s Heritage Restaurant: kangaroo.
“I try to make a trip every summer, see former students and bring back things to my current students that we can explore in the kitchen,” he said.
This summer, that meant a trip to Australia to spend time with Daniel Wilson, an acclaimed chef and 1997 graduate of GRCC’s culinary education program.
And that trip means his students — and diners in West Michigan — will have a chance this fall to taste kangaroo filets, likely a first for the area.
“When you travel, you can’t help but eat, especially the local foods,” he said. “In Australia, Daniel was my tour guide, and in Melbourne, we spent days at what is billed as the largest outdoor market in the Southern Hemisphere. I can’t even describe it, but the diversity there was amazing.”
That diversity included kangaroo. On one of their market trips, Schultz said, he was struck by the rows and rows of hanging meat available for sale, especially an animal with a distinctive ruby-red appearance that was unlike anything he’d ever seen.
Wilson told him that it was kangaroo.
Schultz knew he needed to know more, so he bought some steaks and some stew meat, and he and Wilson experimented with different ways of cooking it at Wilson’s house.
As his stay Down Under continued, he explored other local neighborhoods and markets, seeking out distinctively Australian items he could serve with kangaroo.
When his kangaroo filets arrive in West Michigan – likely the second part of the fall semester — he and his students will be creating a dish with macadamia-encrusted kangaroo with apricot mirin sake sauce, parsnips and Davidson Plum powder. It will bring an authentic taste of Australia to local palates and create what Schultz calls a culinary story.
“All of these different flavor profiles will help us build a plate that tells some of the story of Australia,” he said. “I can’t wait for people to try it, to experience it.”
The dish, which is currently being prepared with venison, will be available at The Heritage restaurant, GRCC’s fine dining experience that is staffed by culinary school students under the direct supervision of chef and table service professors.
Indeed, Wilson credits much of his career success to not just his classroom education at GRCC but also the hands-on experience he got working on campus.
“I worked with Bob when he was the banquet chef,” Wilson recalled. “We did all kinds of events, and Bob’s positive attitude and strong work ethic made me feel welcomed and gave me something to look up to.”
Now, three decades later, Wilson is thrilled to have become a good friend of Schultz and other GRCC instructors.
“The breadth, experience and passion of the instructors was instrumental in developing my career,” he said. “I feel very grateful that I had the opportunity to learn from masters of their craft and build many lasting friendships along the way.”
Wilson, a native of Auckland, New Zealand, said he loves that Schultz was able to bring a kangaroo dish to West Michigan.
“Bob has a very inquisitive nature and loves to share his learnings and knowledge with his students,” he said.
Schultz notes that Australians have created what they believe is a sustainable source of meat with kangaroos. All kangaroo meat in Australia, and anything that is exported, comes from kangaroos that are harvested in the wild from specific areas, with quotas set on the number of animals that can be taken.
He added that kangaroo meat is high in protein and low in fat and has been eaten for generations by indigenous Australians.
And although Schultz and his students are currently making the dish they hope to launch next month with venison, kangaroo doesn’t really taste like venison, he said.
“No,” he said with his characteristic broad smile, “it actually tastes like ostrich. It’s a little bit gamey but also a little bit sweet.”
This story was reported by Phil de Haan.