With deer season in full swing, many local hunters turn to Pete Giovenco to butcher wild game. For more than five decades, he's done so at his family business, Deer Depot (188 Almedia Road, St. Rose, 504-469-4369; www.deerdepot.com).
How did you find yourself processing game professionally?
Giovenco: I've been cutting deer for 51 years. When I first started, I was working at corner stores and supermarkets and I was cutting deer at the same time during my off-hours. Then I got laid off, and my wife said, "Why go off and get another job when you can just cut deer?" So 33 years ago, we went into the business and started cutting game for everybody professionally, not just for friends and family.
This is a real family business. Everyone's involved: my wife, my son and even my grandson when he can. We worked out of my house for 20 years, but then we just didn't have enough space, so we bought this property and moved into the building 13 years ago. We've been here ever since, and we specialize in wild game. We'll do game from Canada, New Mexico, British Columbia, you name it, all year long. Other people might cut traditional meat in the morning, maybe make ground beef and pork chops, and in the evening they do deer. But we do deer all day, five days a week — seven days during deer season.
What other animals do you work with besides deer?
G: There isn't anything I don't do. We do nutria; I was selected by the Louisiana (Department of) Wildlife and Fisheries a while back to make nutria sausage. They wanted me to make a test amount, and before you know it, they had me making anything I could make out of nutria, like smoked sausage and spiced snack sticks. It was going pretty well for a few years there. It's a wonderful product, and I love it. It's better than eating chicken, it's very healthful and tasty, but it never really caught on. Maybe they should've called it "Cajun rabbit" or something. It could feed a lot of people, but sadly, it didn't work out.
I've done rattlesnake sausage, rabbit, and we do duck all the time. Also antelope, blackbuck, sika (deer), and I'm cutting an elk right now. We do quite a few animals from all over, all the exotics. Hogs are a big business here, too. People don't talk about that, but we'll do wild hogs. When I first started, we used to make only three kinds of sausages, and now we have 26 different products.
What are you best known for?
G: Actually, one of our most popular items is our New Orleans French Market-style beef tamales, like Manuel's Hot Tamales that you used to be able to get on the street corners. We make every tamale by hand; we do not use a machine. They're rolled and cooked by our staff right here in house. I love tamales, and it was something I was crazy about my whole life. I must've gone through about eight or 10 different recipes until I got the right one that I wanted. We also make old-fashioned jerky, where it's sliced, marinated and cooked in the smoker, just like it was hundreds of years ago. We never use a food dehydrator.
My son invented what we call the Cajun Po-Boy, and right from the start, it just exploded. We patented the name and the product. It's made out of venison backstrap. I'll take the silver skin off of it, then roll it out flat like a sheet of paper and stuff it with a Creole meat mix. We add bacon, parsley, green onion and smoked sausage right there in the center. Then we roll it all up like a football and wrap the whole thing again from end to end with bacon, tie it with string and smoke it for six to eight hours, all night long. When it comes out, it's completely cooked and ready to eat. All you have to do is warm it up. — SCOTT GOLD