Georgia Pellegrini is a different kind of hunter. She's a tasteful, stylish food artisan with a bit of gritty, shotgun-toting gal mixed in. It's a combo that's hard to ignore.
Her wildly successful book Food Heroes, which was released this past September, has led to a new exploration of her culinary soul. That exploration steered her into a gun store to buy a shotgun. Not long after that she started hunting and taking an active role in bridging the gap between the "foodies" who go to the farmer's markets and hunters who fill freezers full of game meat for their families.
Pellegrini has been praised by critics and fans alike for her writing, blogging and commentary on cooking's connection with Mother Nature. She'll cover that subject and more in her forthcoming book, Girl Hunter.
On her website Pellegrini takes this stab at describing her new food agenda:
I hunt and gather myself, and hone my pioneer skills. I seek ingredients that are anchored to the seasons and a definite place. It is the kind of food once served in simple restaurants and in homes by housewives, now, by grandmothers, by families for generations, and today by people—culinary artisans—choosing to do the hard work required to live off the best their hands can produce.
There's no doubt, this hunting chick is cut from a different cloth. I tracked her down to find out how a classy connoisseur became a passionate outdoorswoman. Oh, and I figured I might as well get a few good recipes for venison while I'm at it.
AH.org: Briefly describe your background and where you grew up.
GP: I grew up on the same land my great-grandfather lived on. He named it ‘Tulipwood’ and I've always felt a deep connection to the place. My grandmother lives there in the same house she grew up in. My great-aunt used to walk around with me and tell me the name of every plant on the land, and I would label them for her. Living there, fishing, foraging and gardening inspired my love of simple food and my love of tradition. It's what ultimately inspired me to go to culinary school and cook professionally. And then that philosophy is what inspired my recent book “Food Heroes,” and eventually hunting.
AH.org: When/where/how were you first introduced to hunting?
GP: I was working at farm-to-table restaurants and had a kind of watershed moment when I had to kill a turkey for the restaurant. It was hard but it also woke up a dormant part of me, and I realized that, if I couldn’t do it then I couldn’t eat meat, or wear leather or eat cheese (most people don’t realize it, but animals have to die in order to make many types of cheese). And that wasn’t going to work for me as a chef. I used every part of the animal that day and treated it with integrity all the way to the plate. From there I took it one step further—I went from “farm-to-table” to what I call “field-and-stream-to-table.”
AH.org: Was there one thing that made you turn the corner and embrace our sport?
GP: The more I read about our feedlot system in America, the more I knew I didn’t want to support it. And with hunting, I have the ability to use every part of the animal and know that there was no suffering. It was a natural extension of my food philosophy.
AH.org: Talk about your upcoming book "Girl Hunter." What can readers expect when they open it?
GP: My recent book “Food Heroes,” tells the stories of 16 food artisans who chose to step off the grid and pursue particular food traditions that they are passionate about, whether it’s breeding potatoes or fighting to save the honeybees. They were people I met while working in various restaurants whose stories inspired me. “Girl Hunter” comes out next fall and goes one step further. In it, I roll up my sleeves and get to the heart of the ingredients myself. I take people on a journey into natural habitat in search of the main course, and at the end of the stories there are lots of “how to’s” and recipes to teach people how to cook it all well.
AH.org: What have you learned about hunting and its relationship to the culinary arts while writing the book?
GP: A lot is wasted in today's professional kitchens in an effort to make the final product look perfect. I have become very conscious of waste and make sure that very little of what is hunted is wasted. It is not always a step-by-step process. There are no perfectly clean kitchens in bringing food from the hunt to the table.
This makes me a careful hunter and a more "awake" human. I only take the shot if I know it will be a clean one. It makes me very patient in the field. And I hunt for animals that taste good, or that can be made to taste good with some effort. Because I'm hunting for food and not for trophies, it gives me more flexibility as well. For example, I'm happy if I get a cow elk tag rather than a bull elk tag, because my end goal is not beautiful horns, but delicious food.
AH.org: You're not what most people think of as the typical huntress. Most of us aren't galavanting in England one week and blasting pheasants in S.D. the next. Describe your "style."
GP: I’d say I’m a little city, a little country. I bridge the gap between the “foodies” who love to go to the farmers markets on Saturday morning, and the hunter gatherers who will kill an elk and fill their freezer with food for their families. Even though their food philosophies aren’t very different, those two worlds don’t often collide, but I’m starting to make them.
AH.org: What has been your favorite hunting experience so far?
GP: I’ve been fortunate to travel to some beautiful places, but for me it always comes down to the people I meet while I’m there. I have some friends in Arkansas that I hunt with often and every time I go, when it seems like it can’t get any more fun, it does. It is because they are highly competent and ethical outdoorsmen who really love and embrace nature, and make so much out of what it provides. They have set the bar for me and raise it every time I go back.
AH.org: What's your firearm of choice?
GP: I shoot a 20 gauge or 28 gauge shotgun and a .270 caliber rifle. I don’t get caught up in the latest gadgets, to me a gun is a tool the same way a knife or a hammer is. As long as it fits comfortably and can help me collect ingredients, I’m happy.
AH.org: How has hunting and being out in the field helped you grow as a chef, a writer and a person?
GP: Hunting and gathering, when done ethically, are the last natural and instinctive interplay between humans, the land and animals. And it is an act involving all of the senses. It is part of the natural cycle of life, humans eat animals, animals eat animals and plants, plants feed from the dirt, and we turn to dirt. I think that is the part people have a hard time with—where there is the flow of life there is also the flow of death, and hunting forces you to acknowledge your own mortality.
AH.org: What's your experience with white-tailed deer and other big game animals?
GP: I actually just came back from a deer camp and elk hunt in preparation for my next book. I like the experience of sitting in a deer stand for hours. Time passes differently, and amazing things unfold in front of you that never do at any other time. And I made some pretty excellent sausage afterwards!
AH.org: What are your plans for the future with hunting?
GP: Hunting and gathering are an integral part of my lifestyle by now. I can’t imagine it will ever change, especially now that I’ve eaten so well. It is hard to go back once you’ve eaten the way I have, and traveled and met so many great people in the process. I feel grateful all the time.
AH.org: What can we expect from your upcoming television efforts?
GP: There is a television show in development based on my experiences and my next book. That’s about all I can share for now, but if you sign up for my newsletter on my site, you’ll be the first to know when it airs!