Xtreme Cuisine

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"I kill lion on safari in Tanzania," he relates of one skinned carcass. "She guard two cubs, and I kill all three. Cubs we roast for Sultan of Brunei, and the heart of mother lion I barbecue for Donald Trump. I keep body. Maybe make steaks, and stew of rest. Lion not good meat. No fat, but people want to eat, so I hunt them."

Interestingly, lion is another of those creatures that can be hunted, if done so on African reserves. Elephant, too, is in a similar category. But there are a number of carcasses in this illicit icebox that Yamamoto cannot have acquired legally, like those of the gorilla. When I challenge Yamamoto about the ethics of hunting and eating such magnificent creatures, especially ones threatened with extinction, the globetrotting gourmet vigorously defends himself.

"I am, how you say, environmentalist," he insists. "American eat so many cow, pig, lamb, chicken. Raise on farm, fill with antibiotic, slaughter like in Holocaust. Then process meat so it have no taste, and fill with chemical. I don't do this. I hunt one by one, like American Indian. Use whole animal from wild. Everything very natural. Game better for you. More healthy.

"People from PETA, how you say -- retards?" continues the chef. "Hunting is very ethical, yes. PETA want everyone vegetarian. But if everyone vegetarian, world have too many animal, and animal eat human. What you want? Human die or animal die?"

Yamamoto has a point. PETA does seem extreme in its dictates at times. I called PETA's national office in Norfolk, Virginia, to get its response to the chef's statement, but never received a call back from its representative. E-mails to its preachy Web site at www.PETA.com also garnered no reply.

Not that everyone can afford to eat like Yamamoto's clients, but if we could, the processed meat in our diet would be replaced by leaner wild game flesh. And according to both the FDA and private pro-hunting organizations such as Hunting for Tomorrow (www.huntingfortomorrow.com), game offers better-tasting viands that are lower in saturated fat and calories, but higher in content of EPA, or eicosapentaenoic acid, and omega 3 fatty acid, believed to reduce hardening of the arteries and the likelihood of strokes.

Yet in spite of such health benefits and Yamamoto's obvious genius for preparing such super-exotic fare, his methods are unlawful, distasteful, excessive, and, at times, leave you wondering about the chef's sanity.

In defiance of Arizona state law, Yamamoto regularly chain-saws old-growth saguaros, both on private and public property, for the Southwestern salads like the one he served for my meal at the Wrigley Mansion. This I know because I've witnessed him do it, taking down what may have been a century-old cactus, to judge from its thickness. When I query him about the Special Enforcement Division of the Arizona Department of Agriculture that exists solely to apprehend saguaro poachers, or about saguaro conservationists who would regard him as a deranged vandal, Yamamoto scoffs at the idea that saguaros require this sort of protection.

"There are so many saguaro out there," he snorts. "Go look in desert. You cannot count them, there are so many. Is only plant. Why you care so much about plant? That stupid. Arizona have cactus police force. Waste of tax money."

Then there's the way Yamamoto obtained spider monkeys and sea lions.

"The Phoenix zoo have lot of monkey," shrugs Yamamoto. "Sometime they lose one. Maybe they think it escape. Maybe they should pay their employee better. For guard on night shift, $500 is lot of money. Same for sea lion at SeaWorld. If sea lion not perform in show, sea lion go bye-bye."

If the employees he's bribed at SeaWorld can't come through for him on the sea lion tip, Yamamoto always has the fallback of driving up to San Francisco's Pier 39 with a refrigerated truck, waiting until the wee hours of morning with two assistants, and plugging a sea lion in the skull using a night-vision laser-scope, and a silencer on his high-powered rifle. The sea lions are wild, and come and go as they please from the docks. According to the Marine Mammal center in Sausalito, California, an organization dedicated to the rescue and study of sea mammals, the high count of sea lions at Pier 39 was 1,139 on September 3, 2001. With those kinds of numbers, it's easy to see how one fewer sea lion perched on the Frisco docks is not missed. Like whales, dolphins, manatees, and other aquatic mammals, sea lions are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972. But that doesn't stop Yamamoto, who prizes sea lions for their blubber-bound musculature, which he asserts makes for the ultimate in pot roasts.

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons