There’s been a protest brewing in up in polite old Canada. It’s over a chef who serves game at a restaurant called Antler Kitchen & Bar, in Toronto. The whole kerfuffle started with a simple joke between two neighboring restaurants, written on a chalkboard outside of Antler. The line read “Venison is the new kale.”
The joke was spotted by vegan activist and professional dog walker Marni Ugar. She was enraged by the sign and responded with months of protests outside Antler.
The target of Ugar’s ire was Michael Hunter — a star chef at Reds Wine Tavern in Toronto who opened Antler with business partner Jody Shapiro because he felt creatively bankrupt and disconnected from the ingredients of Canada that he’d grown up with. At Antler, Chef Hunter focuses on foraging for local ingredients that grow in Ontario. Hunter’s second foundational aspiration was distancing Antler from the horrifically detrimental factory farming industry. So he serves free-range game (health codes prohibit restaurants from serving wild game).
Hunter even jokes that he tried serving chicken and fish, but everyone loved the game more. So he’s 86’d the chicken and focused exclusively on serving game and foraged foods.
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This week we say hello to our new Venison dish! Once a month we butcher a whole deer from our friends in Bruce County. We serve the deer two ways to utilize the whole animal. A seared loin and ragout from the neck and shoulder. This is our Moroccan Spiced Venison Tagine on cous cous and harissa. #butcher #nosetotail #wholeanimal #venison #deer #realfood #antlerkitchenbar #thehunterchef 📸 @jodyagram
Marni Ugar’s original protest was small — just seven people — but it got plenty of attention, with participants chanting that Chef Hunter was “a murderer.”
Hunter responded by offering vegan dishes as an olive branch to the protesters. This failed to placate the protesting vegans and they carried on protesting throughout the winter. Ugar made it clear in Toronto’s The Globe and Mail that “the goal always is for a restaurant to go fully vegan.” According to Hunter, the continued protests were driving away customers and thereby poisoning his livelihood.
Last Friday the situation reached a boiling point. Chef Hunter decided to take a venison leg into his restaurant’s front window and break it down in front of the persistent vegan protestors who were holding up a huge “Murder” banner in front of his restaurant. The cops were called and the Canadian press caught wind of the situation.
Now, Ugar is offering to limit her protests to “once a month” if Hunter puts a sign in Antler’s window that reads “Attention, animals’ lives are their right. Killing them is violent and unjust no matter how it’s done.” Hunter has countered with an offer of creating a vegan tasting menu for the protesters and leading them on a foraging trip to teach them about the beautiful food of Ontario. According to the latest reports, Ugar has not accepted Hunter’s offer.
All of this echoes the recent vegan activism against indigenous chefs in Canada who are serving seal (and other native game ingredients) in an attempt to re-connect with traditional recipes that were stripped from their culture via extermination-driven colonialism. It’s really hard to square such a protest with a chef who’s purpose is the rejection of factory farming and industrial foods while embracing a connection to the land and foodways that are more sustainable and local.
This Instagram may be the best summation of why these protesters might be missing the mark. They’re carrying signs showing factory farmed cattle and chicken in front of a restaurant whose entire existence is based on rejecting those practices.
Chef Hunter does have some good news, however. Since he took to the window of his restaurant to break down the venison leg, reservations for Antler have increased.
(Via The Globe and Mail)