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Cooking with Keene

Jun 7, 2010

Cooking with Keene
By: Marian Burros
June 7, 2010 04:25 AM EST

“If you shoot, you must cook.”

So says hunter-fisherman David Keene, who is better known around Washington
as the current chairman of the American Conservative Union and a
vice-president of the National Rifle Association. (He'll become president in
2011.) Earlier this year he put on an elk dinner at his Arlington home,
which POLITICO was able to attend for our Cooking with… series. In those
interviews, it is always appropriate to ask the interviewee how he learned
to cook. This is the first time the subject replied by saying, “I learned to
cook by cooking.”

And then he confessed he was still learning. When asked the most
embarrassing cooking experience he’d ever had, Keene didn’t hesitate.
“When I was cooking the elk. Don’t you remember? The elk was a little
tougher than it should have been,” he said, in a conversation a few weeks
later. He blamed the reporter, whose many questions may have distracted him.
“I overcooked the elk and it was your fault,” he said and laughed. “I
thought everyone had arrived when I started it and they hadn’t.”

On that first go-round, to keep the meat warm, after he had sautéed it in
butter, he covered it and continued cooking it. Not good for a lean piece of
meat like elk. But the cook and the elk were redeemed on a re-do later on
that same night: lightly sautéed, the meat was very tender and flavorful.

The “steamed” elk was served first, though, with roasted acorn squash
seasoned with butter and brown sugar, macaroni to sop up the meat juices,
and a salad of iceberg lettuce, sliced white onions and sliced egg, topped
with Marie’s blue cheese salad dressing.

To continue the theme of simple is good, Keene put an apple filling in a
prepared pie crust then topped it was a crust he had made himself.

The elk served that evening was the first Keene had ever shot. Just a month
before our dinner, he’d landed his trophy at Ted Turner’s 600,000 acre ranch
in New Mexico, which is just next door to the NRA’s 35,000 acre Whittington
Center, a shooting center where the elk and the antelope roam.
(As member of the NRA board, however, Keene is not permitted to hunt

“Elk is about as good as you can get,” Keene said as he served his guests
delicious lightly smoked elk and duck (also from his own stash in the
freezer), with drinks before dinner. “It’s like the best caribou; like
really good beef, only better, not really gamey.”

Who knew?

Still, his elk adventure didn’t sound very sporting: “Hunting elk is like
shooting a bargain hunter in a Costco parking lot,” he said.

His next hunting adventure will pose a greater challenge. This month, Keene
will be taped for a television show, “Dangerous Game,” when he hunts the
most ferocious animal in the world. “They asked me and offered me a choice
between a lion and a cape buffalo in Zambia,” he said. “I chose a buffalo
because it is more dangerous and because I have a gun that was built for
shooting cape buffalo.” This trophy will not go into Keene’s
freezer: according to custom, it must be turned over to the local village.

Even though he describes himself as “a mediocre shot” he said he’s not
worried--professional hunters will be with him every step of the way.

When Keene moved to Washington from Wisconsin in 1970 he reluctantly gave up
hunting, convinced there could be no place to shoot so close to a big city.
Soon enough, however, he learned that the Washington area is a paradise for
hunters, from West Virginia--where he has a home and hunts deer and
grouse--to the Eastern Shore of Maryland, where he shoots ducks.
(He bags 70 or 80 of them annually, and serves duck year round, straight
from his freezer.)

In the summer Keene’s thoughts turn to fishing, most of which he does in
Montana, where he and his wife, Donna Weisner Keene, have another home. He
practices catch and release and catch and eat. It depends on the fish and on
where it was caught, he said. Wild rainbow and brown trout from the rivers
are never for dinner. “There aren’t enough of them,” he explained.
“They are too beautiful to catch just once. But those from ponds where they
are stocked every year become supper.

For all of his interest in game cooked with the minimum of seasonings –
garlic salt is his favorite -- Keene loves Chinese food, especially at Falls
Church’s Peking Gourmet Inn, a restaurant George H.W. Bush made famous.

“It’s six blocks from our house and I was accused of moving here to be close
to it,” he said. “It’s one of the best Chinese restaurants in the country.”

No surprise that one of his favorite dishes there is Peking duck.