The ARC and the alligator

A fund-raiser poses the question: What wine goes well with reptile?

Photo Illustration by Tina Flynn

A confession: In all of Henri’s years of culinary investigation and experimentation, he had never tasted alligator. In fact, he’d all but avoided it, associating it with Carl Hiaasen novels and New York sewers, as well as assuming that eating alligator increased the likelihood, at least indirectly, of also ingesting poodles and small visitors from the Midwest who had happened to wander too close to the shores of Florida swamps. Coq au vin always seemed far more appetizing.

But along with the new life I am forging for myself here in California I am also attempting to leave behind as many of my culinary prejudices as I can, the better to objectively and honestly carry out my obligations as your trustworthy food correspondent.

Which is why I dropped by the ARC’s fourth-annual wine tasting—called “Chico Chefs and California Wineries"—one Sunday afternoon a couple of weeks ago. And good thing I did.

Turns out that the ARC had joined the growing national trend of pairing wineries and restaurants by serving specific foods with specific wines. Definitely a tad more sophisticated than most Americans’ rule of thumb: red with red meat, white with just about anything else. The ARC’s benefit paired California wines with foods from Chico restaurants and caterers.

At any rate, that’s where I met the alligator. Woody’s Grille and Catering was serving what it called Alligator Gumbo Money Bags (restaurateurs take note: a “grille” is a metal grating, like over a window or the front of a car; it is not a place to eat). Not exactly a gumbo as I remembered from my two-week culinary expedition to bayou country several years ago (that is, a stew thickened with okra), this was two-inch-square pieces of meat piled high on a platter and skewered with toothpicks. Another confession: I ate about a dozen of those little things.

Although most alligator meat is farmed, as wild alligators are officially endangered, Southern states have laws allowing licensed hunters to kill specific animals that have been deemed nuisances. Florida, for example, has 38 licensed alligator hunters who make their livings booking trips to off these ill-mannered poodle munchers. Generally, the farmed meat is tastier—not as stringy or “fishy” as the wild. Woody’s alligator looked and tasted not unlike halibut and went down quite nicely with the 1999 Sangiovese from Chappellet Vineyards.

Other highlights of the afternoon: crab cakes with chipotle aioli (the Albatross Restaurant) with a 2000 Los Carneros Chardonnay from Laurier Vineyards and a 2000 Zinfandel, both from Villa Toscano; insalata Caprese with water-buffalo mozzarella (Sierra Nevada Restaurant and Taproom) with a 2000 Guenoc Chardonnay; smoked salmon and kefir cream cheese on slices of sourdough baguette (Nash’s) with a 2000 Chardonnay from Domaine Napa and a 2001 Pinot Noir from Laurier; and brushetta with Lodestar olive oil and Pedrozo cheese (the Black Crow Grill—note correct spelling—and Taproom) with a 2001 Walter Schug Chardonnay.

As a bonus that afternoon, I learned something about the ARC of Butte County, a non-profit organization founded in 1954 to provide information and support to local citizens with developmental disabilities. This includes a concerted campaign to inform the public at large about the nature of various disabilities and in so doing reduce the prejudice that threatens this population. The ARC offers a wide range of programs, including “Families of Children Under Stress” (FOCUS), an autism support group, recreational therapy and socialization classes, and various skills programs designed to help clients become better able to live independently.

For more information on the ARC, visit its Web site at To order farmed-alligator meat, contact Gatorama at To book a pistol, bow, rifle, black-powder or knife alligator-hunting trip, contact Louisiana Monsters at To purchase alligator skins, skulls, or mounted heads, visit You can order alligator meat in Chico from S and L Foods at 343-7953.