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Posted on May 30, 2012
Meet Georgia Pellegrini, author of “Girl Hunter: Revolutionizing the Way We Eat, One Hunt at a Time.” A former city girl who worked on Wall Street, this classically-trained chef now spends her days out in the field hunting wild game and concocting new recipes. In her latest book, she travels across America and overseas in search of everything from quail to boar to javelina, and along the way learns new life lessons and the joys of self-sufficiency—plus she shares some mouthwatering wild game recipes. We sat down with Georgia to learn more about her cooking, her views on food and how she shares her love of the outdoors with others.
How did you come to embrace foraging and hunting?
I grew up in the same land that my great-grandfather lived on in the Hudson Valley in New York. I used to forage and garden a lot, and we had chickens. There was a very holistic view on food and the land we live on, a willingness to roll up our sleeves and get involved in nature and food and where it comes from. I grew up living that lifestyle.
The hunting didn’t actually happen until I became a chef, and I was working at various farm-to-table restaurants. One of the restaurants I worked at was very hands on and part of that was killing the turkey for the kitchen. That was my watershed moment where I realized I wanted to participate in that part of the process as well.
Why do you think it’s important to think about the food we eat?
I think the idea is just to pay attention to what your body needs at any given moment in time. That’s the thing about food—people approach it a lot differently than we used to. It used to be that humans ate a great variety of fruit, seeds, nuts and protein. There was a lot of diversity in our diet once upon a time. Now there’s not much diversity at all. It’s mostly corn and grain or meat that’s been fed corn and grain. That’s the source for a lot of our health problems.
Do you feel like there’s been a recent movement toward a more natural approach to food?
There’s definitely been a movement of organic over processed. I also think it’s taken a bigger step than that. People are looking to experience things more viscerally now, the way our grandmothers did. They’re really participating in some way, whether it’s weeding, digging, hunting or gardening. It’s that idea of being more involved in life and being more in touch with things the way our ancestors were.
Why only hunt for the food you eat?
It’s about knowing your source. There’s a growing movement to get more involved in that way, to know your source and where things are coming from and to know the animal didn’t have a horrible life or a horrible diet before coming to your plate. There are even farms now that will let you come and partake in the slaughter. I think that it’s an important part of paying the full price of the meal.
What’s the most unusual animal you’ve killed and cooked?
I would say probably squirrel or javelina. That’s definitely something you can’t get in the grocery store, so they’re probably the most exotic types. Though javelina is common in Arizona and West Texas, it’s not where I grew up. Squirrels, which most people think of as tree rats, are actually delicious.
What’s been great for me as a chef is that I’ve been given the opportunity to try new flavors that are not available in the grocery store. It’s sort of a culinary adventure that we don’t get to have anymore because our diets have become so narrowed down to very specific meats and flavors. Wild animals are wild—they eat whatever they want. So each squirrel will taste different, whereas in the grocery store, each chicken will taste the same because they’ve had the same diet. It’s been a fun adventure as a chef.
Who tests out the wild game recipes as you create them?
Pretty much everyone who’s been willing—family and friends. The book is part of my journey to different states and to England, and it talks about different cultures and parts of society that approach food differently. When I’m on the road in various places, I’ll often cook for the people I’ve been hunting with. They get to try and experience a meat that they’ve been hunting their whole lives in a new way.
What your favorite wild animal recipe?
I don’t know that I have a favorite! It really varies. I love cooking a whole hog with my friends in the South. They do it really well down there. I have a great recipe for cooking a hog in a smoker barrel, which entails draping strips of bacon and pouring on jars of molasses and cut apples, and it captures the fat and the sweet. It smokes for over twelve hours and is pretty delicious!
If someone was going to try one of your recipes, which would you suggest starting with?
I have a lot of wild game recipes in my book. A good entry point is venison tenderloin. Venison is a pretty accessible meat for people to try as a starting point.
Any meat you wouldn’t eat?
I don’t think so. As long as it’s sustainable and done in a humane way, I’m happy to try everything.
What’s Girl Hunter Weekend and how did that get started?
It started out as a way for me to introduce people to the outdoors. A lot of people had never tried it before, and I wanted to introduce them to it. I got so many requests for more that I’m actually planning another one this coming September in Montana. It’s going to be fly fishing, hunting, horseback riding, taking an ATV ride up in the mountains where you can see wildlife, and tons of food and log cabins. It’s instructive—some of the guests have hunted, some of them haven’t. It’s not about expertise level; it’s just about the fun of enjoying the outdoors together. It’s a fun way to bond with other people.
And since we’re HuntingBoots.com, we have to ask! Favorite hunting boots?
For me, it’s all about protection from the elements. So waterproof, warm… and protects you from the snakes!
Would you try one of Georgia’s squirrel or javelina recipes?