Where did your cooking roots begin? For me, I really cannot remember when I did not cook. It is like I came out of the womb with a spatula in my hand. I rack my brain trying to think back to the first thing I learned to cook and what pops into my head – Fried eggs. Perhaps it is because I love eggs and I made them almost every day for lunch. I guess those are my cooking roots. Fried eggs are where it all began.
I definitely expanded my culinary endeavors over the years. With help from my mom, grandma, and a whole slew of 4-H projects I became a pretty competent cook. I could follow a recipe, make basic dishes, and even used those skills to impress a few ladies back in the day. No one would call me a chef, but I would not starve when left alone, which is more than most of my generation.
When I got married to my lovely wife, who is a really good cook herself, I really started to improve my cooking skills. We would watch cooking shows on the Food Network and one of us would end up suggesting that we try and make it. The first one of these experiments came after watching Hell’s Kitchen with Gordon Ramsey. He tore those chefs a new one talking about risotto and beef wellington. So one weekend I decided to make them. Gordon Ramsey probably would have called me a bloody disgrace and I should apologize to the cow and rice farmers everywhere for the abomination I created, but my wife and I thought it turned out delicious. That was my first forte into haute cuisine.
Now let us go back to the beginning again. You can say I was born into the hunting life. I killed my first groundhog at age 5 and followed it up that fall with my first squirrel. Growing up I ate all kinds of wild meat; squirrel, deer, rabbit, and whatever else we were able to kill. So combining this with my ever-expanding cooking skills, I had an epiphany.
Growing up the way I did, expanding my palate was never really an issue. My issue was that I really only knew how to prepare wild game a handful of ways. Small game was fried, deer roasts were cooked in the crockpot with root vegetables, and deer steak was pounded flat dredged in flour and fried in a cast iron skillet. Not that these preparations are not delicious because they are, but there just has to be more to wild game than down-home cooking.
In walks Steve Rinella. Well, he did not actually walk in, it was more like I started watching his TV show, The Wild with In. It was the first hunting show that I had seen that really showed field to table. He hunted it then he cooked it. The show was great. It caused me to look up Steve’s first book, The Scavengers Guide to Haute Cuisine.
Holy Crap on a cracker! If you have not read the book, you should. Steve goes all over the country hunting and gathering ingredients so he can cook a 19th-century French feast. He is a self-taught cook. I’m a self-taught cook. I can totally do this.
So I enbarked my journey to becoming the best wild game cook I could be. As my dishes improved so did my thought process. Something that I really never grasped before began to take hold. It is something I like to call: The Hunters Obligation. Basically, the hunter is obligated to treat the meat with the utmost respect. You took the animal’s life and it is your duty to see that it was not taken in vain. I believe this goes far beyond not wasting it. I want to give it the most honor I can, by cooking it the best and most delicious way I know how.
Meat is hunting’s greatest ambassador. One could spend hours trying to explain to a non-hunter why I hunt, or I can present him with a perfectly cooked deer back strap. I know for a fact the dish will speak clearer than I could. I have given a number of non-hunters a more favorable view of hunting with food. Some are a little reluctant at first, but if it is prepared well most come around and try it. And the better you can prepare it, the better ambassador it is.
No one starts out as a chef, as you can see I started from the bottom making fried eggs. I had help along the way. If you want to be a better cook there are great resources out there. My greatest resource, honest-food.net, is run by the great wild game chef Hank Shaw. He also moderates the Hunt, Gather, Cook Facebook group which is made up of over 12,000 wild game cooks of all skill level. There is not a more helpful group on the internet. They can answer any question you can come up with and will inspire you to try new and wonderful things.
So I invite you to be a better cook, be a better ambassador, and do your best to fulfill the Hunters Obligation.