Sussex venison is back says food writer Christopher Archambault

Jack Smallman

Jack Smallman - Credit: Archant

Healthy and local, venison is back in vogue. Chef and food writer Christopher Archambault gives us the skinny

Integrity is one of the most fundamental ingredients of any good meal, and to call Jack Smallman a local food hero is almost an understatement.

He’s a man at one with his profession and environment, his heart humbly beating to the pulse of the English countryside and a man to whom I respectfully doff my chef’s hat.

Jack and his wife Jessica own and run South Downs Venison & Game, dealing in all manner of local feather and fur for the past five years, but their true love is venison. Jack’s father is the gamekeeper on a local estate, hence the inherited art of deer stalking - sustenance through sustainability and essential population control is part of Jack’s DNA. His recognition of every sparse path, twisted oak and moss-cloaked rise of the local forests represents a lifetime’s accumulation of natural markers.

As he talks me through the intricacies of his daily routine, it soon becomes clear that safety comes first. “As long as ramblers stick to the bridlepaths, all is well...but we still have to consider where the shot can end up, so the backdrop to the beast is always paramount in our minds.” This is so different to the hunting of my youth in Canada, where you could easily be hundreds of miles away from the nearest settlement.

Jack continues: “Obviously deer no longer have a natural predator, so the culling of the local population is imperative to protect the health of the species and its habitat.” Jack and Jessica are avid cooks themselves and I’m always heartened when a producer has more than a passing interest in what to do with their product. Much like a chef, they are keen to push more than just the prime cuts of the beast, and their fine venison haunch steaks are expertly prepared by an in-house butcher and available at nine farmers’ markets across the south, the most local being Horsham, on Saturdays from 8am to 4pm. Quality local restaurants, from the Goodwood Estate and South Lodge to The Royal Oak in Lavant, are supplied by South Downs. For your own table, check out the details below. Their seasonal larder is regularly stocked with venison, pheasant, partridge, pigeon, mallard and the occasional rabbit and hare. From their own rented patch to crucial work collaborating with local gamekeepers, I can’t think of a food service business more just. Management of the local environment whilst providing the very healthiest of proteins to the local population with minimum process and’s as exactly as things should be. A harmonious equilibrium, naturally.

South Downs Venison & Game, The Old Dairy, Duncton, Petworth, GU28 0LT 01798 343245;***


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