Let me clue you in on a little secret. A number of women, deep down, wish they could don sturdy boots, venture out into the woods, cock a gun and shoot their own dinner. It should come as no surprise in this D.I.Y. foodie era that girls — just like boys — can get bitten by the hunting bug.
And yet, it is still surprising to spot a female hunting enthusiast, no matter how many moose-hunting images of Sarah Palin we’ve been flooded with. And even another surprise — the woman who loves a good hunt doesn’t even have to be a tomboy. She can be a beautiful blonde who once clicked her heels on Wall Street as a power-suit-clad banker.
Meet Georgia Pellegrini, whose new book, Girl Hunter: Revolutionizing the Way We Eat, One Hunt at a Time, is out today. We spoke with her about guns, Wall Street and pouring molasses over a cooked wild pig.
You often pose for pictures with guns. It’s kinda hot. Yes, I’m aware that’s not really a question.
It’s campy. People capture me in those moments. It’s part of my life now. To me, there’s nothing more satisfying than living off the land and I’m OK conveying that. I guess the whole girl-with-a-gun image has a fantasy element to it. But it shows that you can be girly and feminine and still bring home the bacon. Hunting isn’t about going into the woods to tell dirty jokes and shoot at things. It’s about participating in nature rather than just watching it.
How did you get into hunting?
I didn’t grow up hunting, but I did grow up living off the land, fishing trout for breakfast and foraging. I always felt a deep connection to the land. Later I worked in restaurants [at Gramercy Tavern and Blue Hill at Stone Barns] and, one day, the chef said we had to kill five turkeys for dinner service. That was my watershed moment — when I realized this is what it means to be an omnivore. The ingredients don’t just show up. Something has to happen for them to get there.
As in something has to die. Is it hard to kill?
The moment I killed that first turkey was intense and emotional. But it also felt natural, like it made sense. We’re part of this whole cycle: we eat animals, animals eat other animals and plants, plants eat nutrients in the dirt and we turn to dirt. When I went on the hunt, it was almost spiritual. You respect the animal in a whole new way. You use every part of it.
What was your scariest moment on a hunt?
There have been instances where I went hunting with someone I didn’t know well enough and they weren’t as skilled as they portrayed themselves to be. One guy took me out to a place that was illegal to hunt on and I only found out when I was there. It can be very deserted; a rental car company or taxi to get you the heck out of there isn’t an option. I was out in the elements, up 10,000 feet, on a horse, and it was just me, a gun, bears and this guy.
Do you have a game animal of choice?
People are now paid to hunt wild hog because there are too many of them. But they’re actually really delicious. My favorite thing is to take the whole hog, pour molasses over it and lay it on a tray of cut apples sprinkled with cinnamon, then put it in a barrel smoker and smoke it for 12 hours, covered with strips of bacon. I also love venison and game birds… We should also eat squirrel because it’s another population [that needs to be culled].
You talk about your time working on Wall Street as straying from your path. Did you learn anything from it?
Well, I was working with all men. The trading floor is pretty male. I was able to adapt to that and hold my own. I didn’t have to be coy or anything; I could just be me. Living in that environment was good to prepare me for hunting.
Do you have any practical tips for people wanting to get into hunting?
Find somebody you trust to go with you. It’s not that hard. Most people are surprised to learn that they have an uncle or friend who hunts. Another tip is: practice. There are all sorts of clay and trap shooting ranges all over this country and a lot of them aren’t far from urban areas. A gun is just another tool, like a hammer. You have to get comfortable with it and learn how to use it safely. Also, get your hands dirty with field dressing, gutting, and skinning. It’s intense, but important. Hunting isn’t just shooting.
What about tips for cooking game?
Age your meat. A lot of people don’t like game because it tastes, well, gamey and it can be tough. We’re used to eating corn-fed meat, which all tastes the same because the animals themselves all have the same diet. But game animals are athletes – they run and jump and they taste of whatever they eat in the woods. Ageing their meat, their muscles, will make it more tender.
You’ve been compared to both Michael Pollan and The Pioneer Woman. Which do you identify with more?
From a food philosophy perspective, Michael Pollan is an amazing intellectual. What he’s done is important, changing the conversation. People are no longer willing to walk down a grocery aisle and buy a cellophaned breast of chicken without thinking about where it comes from. I also love Ree [Drummond] – she’s a personal friend of mine. I love how she’s opened people’s eyes to food and cooking at home and made it more accessible. So, I really think I’m in the middle.
You identify as an omnivore. Is there anything you won’t eat?
Um, no. Obviously, I’m not interested in grain- and corn-fed meat. I prefer to eat what I hunt. But, really, there’s not a single thing I won’t eat.
More about hunting on Food Republic.