Invasive Species Cook-Off: 'A serious issue, but we're having fun with it'

PHILOMATH, Ore. - The Institute for Applied Ecology and the Oregon Invasive Species Council organized a fundraising dinner to educate the community about the threat of invasive species by giving them a taste of the danger.

On August 25, the Invasive Species Cook-Off, referred to by participants as "Eradication by Mastication," was held at Chintimini Farm in Philomath.

The idea was hatched by Dr. Tom Kaye, executive director of the Institute for Applied Ecology.

"The idea was to literally bring people to the table to talk about the problem invasive species cause. This is a serious issue, but we're having fun with it to get the word out," Kaye said.

The Institute, which began in 1999, has the mission to conserve native species and habitats through education, research and restoration.

Invasive species are organisms that are non-native to a region, and disrupt biological and environmental systems.

Invasive species cost the US economy over $120 billion annually, according to a study on the matter.

Climate change is only expected to make the situation worse.

Invasive Species Cook-Off

Three local chefs participated in a cooking challenge: Jason Biga of Aqua, Hamid Serdani of Serdani Chef Services, and Rick Browne, of PBS's Barbecue America.

Each was given three invasive species: feral pork chops, dandelion greens and Himalayan blackberries. Using ingredients from their own kitchens, they incorporated these species into recipes. The final products were judged on taste, creativity, and presentation.

At the dinner, 250 local residents were able to sit down to a catered dinner by Chef Matt Bennett.

The meal featured some of the most common invasive ingredients in the area before an auction began.

Dishes included wild boar bratwursts, black bean-hominy salad, sorel stem sushi, bullfrog leg meat in potato salad, Japanese knotweed-candied ginger custard.

Each person participating paid about $40 for the meal.

All money raised supports the Institute for Applied Ecology. This event contributed $12,000 to the cause.

According to invasive species coordinator for the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Rick Boatner, just over half a million dollars is designated annually to combat invasive species in the state.

Boatner says that every year, Oregon Fish and Wildlife requests more money from the legislature, but is still struggling against some of the largest threats.

The most prevalent invasive species in Oregon are quagga and zebra mussels, and feral swine. The mussels are disrupting aquatic environments, and damaging hydroelectric facilities. Feral swine, which number in the thousands, are tearing up land across the region, causing erosion.

Pulled Wild Turkey Recipe

An invasive riff on a James Beard BBQ, courtesy of Matt Bennett of Sybaris Bistro.

1 wild turkey, cleaned and cut up
Salt and pepper
1 bottle not too hoppy beer
1c molasses
1c ballpark mustard
1c ketchup

Liberally salt and pepper turkey parts. Chill uncovered overnight. Preheat a smoker (I like hickory, but many people like apple or cherry). Hot smoke (250F) for 3 hours (turkey is NOT safe to eat yet, so don't even think about it). Preheat oven to 300F. Put turkey in a baking pan just big enough to hold it, pour on beer, cover with lid or foil and bake until very tender, about an hour depending on the bird's age. Cool enough to pull and discard all bones, skin and gristly bits (save any juices). Mix molasses, mustard and ketchup; stir into turkey meat and juices. Taste and correct with salt and/or hot sauce of your choice. Can be done several days ahead. Reheat in a 300F oven, serve on hamburger buns, cornbread or however you like your pulled pork.

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