Foodie FIle: Wild Game Feast is a party with a purpose

Guess who’s coming to dinner — Lots and lots of folks. The 2018 Wild Game Feast crowd fills Tommy Lawrence Arena on the Volusia County Fairgrounds.

Guess who’s coming to dinner — Lots and lots of folks. The 2018 Wild Game Feast crowd fills Tommy Lawrence Arena on the Volusia County Fairgrounds.

BEACON PHOTO/MARSHA MCLAUGHLIN

Game on! — Food writer Ryan Rougeux sits down with his personal Wild Game Feast. Each plate looks different, because guests could select from a wide variety of game, and could pile the food as high as they wanted. Choices included Cajun crawfish, venison curry, catfish fingerlings, fried alligator tail, snakehead fish, buffalo meatballs and fried rattlesnake.

Game on! — Food writer Ryan Rougeux sits down with his personal Wild Game Feast. Each plate looks different, because guests could select from a wide variety of game, and could pile the food as high as they wanted. Choices included Cajun crawfish, venison curry, catfish fingerlings, fried alligator tail, snakehead fish, buffalo meatballs and fried rattlesnake.

BEACON PHOTO/TAYLOR SMITH

Citizen of the Year selfie — Newly named West Volusia Citizen of the Year at the 2018 Wild Game Feast, Dr. Lyle Wadsworth smiles for a selfie with Serena Fisher, left, and Carrie Marks of Halifax Health Hospice. Fisher is the agency’s community-relations coordinator, and Marks is a community-care liaison; both women work with Wadsworth, who was one of the founders of West Volusia’s Good Samaritan Clinic.

Citizen of the Year selfie — Newly named West Volusia Citizen of the Year at the 2018 Wild Game Feast, Dr. Lyle Wadsworth smiles for a selfie with Serena Fisher, left, and Carrie Marks of Halifax Health Hospice. Fisher is the agency’s community-relations coordinator, and Marks is a community-care liaison; both women work with Wadsworth, who was one of the founders of West Volusia’s Good Samaritan Clinic.

BEACON PHOTO/SERENA FISHER

Elotes Corn Bar — Wild Game Feast participant Nate Flynn of Central Florida Building Construction watches eagerly as Jeannie Harvey dresses his grilled Mexican street corn with a sauce of sour cream, mayonnaise, lime and paprika at the Wild Game Feast.

Elotes Corn Bar — Wild Game Feast participant Nate Flynn of Central Florida Building Construction watches eagerly as Jeannie Harvey dresses his grilled Mexican street corn with a sauce of sour cream, mayonnaise, lime and paprika at the Wild Game Feast.

BEACON PHOTO/RYAN ROUGEUX

Wild Game Feast a culinary delight and a community help

In 1990, Albert D. Downs led a DeLand Breakfast Rotary Club team that traveled north to observe a Gainesville Rotary wild-game event.

Downs and his team came home impressed. They suggested the DeLand club plan a similar event for its major annual fundraiser.

That’s why, for the past 27 years, a crowd has gathered annually in the 22,954-square-foot Tommy Lawrence Arena at the Volusia County Fairgrounds to sample Florida Cracker vittles like swamp cabbage, fried rattlesnake, oysters, gator tail and much more.

It’s how the Breakfast Rotary has been able to donate $1.75 million to support West Volusia charities.

After Downs died in 2000, the annual feast was renamed for him, honoring his dedication to organizing, planning and sustaining the successful fundraiser that embodies the Rotary Club International motto “Service Above Self.”

“This year, close to 40 local charities benefited from the event, with a record attendance of almost 1,500 people,” said Derek Mears, sponsorship coordinator for the event and a DeLand Breakfast Rotary member.

The Breakfast Rotary distributed $110,000 to charities from the 2017 Wild Game Feast, and members say it looks like even more will be given away this year.

This year, I was to be among the feasters!

Ticket in hand, I charged through the fairgrounds parking lot, through the enticing smells of food being cooked in back of the arena on grills, smokers and fryers.

At the entrance, smiling Rotarian volunteers greeted me, checked my ticket and guided me into the building, where I was given, on behalf of The Beacon, a bag full of sponsor goodies and a light-blue souvenir T-shirt.

Powerful guitar riffs, drumbeats and vocals echoed through the massive arena; The Rangers were on hand to play for the crowd of more than 1,000 people.

Long tables draped with blue linen offered family-style seating in the middle of the arena. A white streamer ran down the middle of each table.

On one side of the arena was the VIP section, which opened early for a pre-party, featuring an assortment of delicacy appetizers such as jalapeño duck poppers, lamb chops, oysters on the half shell, seared ahi tuna and shrimp cocktail.

Daytona Beverages staffed a craft-beer table. Craft beer, as well as wine and soft drinks, were included in the Wild Game Feast ticket price of $60.

Volunteers from the Volusia County Special Population Activities and Recreation Council staffed a raffle and silent-auction table where diners could take a chance on sought-after firearms or try to get the best price on wild-game accessories.

In front of the arena, guests could dance to the rock music, then pick up a sweet tea or fresh lemonade.

One of the most popular areas was the domestic-beer table and a liquor cash bar next door, where many hands were shaken and conversation was plentiful.

Last stop before you got to the epic food table was Simoneau Photography, where guests could have their pictures taken to commemorate the event.

The DeLand Breakfast Rotary had a coordinated setup with two lines coming from both sides of the building. The first stop was a self-serve salad bar, offering plenty of fixings to keep even vegetarians happy.

Next, you got to a long row with a plethora of game, including smoked venison, snakehead fish, blackened gator tail, Cajun crawfish, fried venison, fried rattlesnake, buffalo meatballs, fried catfish, and much more.

My favorite side item was the Elotes (grilled Mexican street corn). The roasted corn on the cob was available at a table where the corn could be dressed with a flavorful sauce of sour cream, paprika, mayonnaise, lime and cilantro.

The final stop was the dessert table, and I chose fresh Key lime pie.

All the game was flavorful, but my favorite was snakehead fish. Snakehead is considered a freshwater invasive species, and is now served in restaurants in an effort to control the population in South Florida.

Snakehead is a white, flaky, mild fish, and the Rotary served it lightly battered and fried. I found it to be absolutely delicious, and was more than happy to help control the species’ population.

As the evening progressed, a Wild Game Feast tradition continued with the announcement of the West Volusia Citizen of the Year. This year’s honoree is Dr. Lyle Wadsworth.

Wadsworth has nurtured and helped expand several local charitable and religious organizations and is now especially well-known as the medical director of Good Samaritan Clinic, the area’s only free medical and dental clinic for qualifying residents.

This year’s Wild Game Feast was another exciting, tasty and charitable event, thanks to the vision of Albert Downs and the continuing efforts of the DeLand Breakfast Rotary. 

For more information on the event, visit www.wildgamefeast.org; for more on the DeLand Breakfast Rotary, visit www.delandbreakfastrotary.com.

— Ryan Rougeux, info@beacononlinenews.com

Rate this article: 
Average: 4.3 (4 votes)