What my experiences on an award-winning show taught me about hunting and food
Let me start by introducing you to ‘From The Wild’ – a multiple James Beard-nominated web-series about wild foods, seven series strong. Created by Edmonton-based director/producer, Kevin Kossowan, the documentary follows the ice fishing, hunting, foraging (and everything in between) seasons, taking cooks, artisans and artists along for the ride. That’s where I came in – armed with licenses, spice blends and a deeply curious mind.
I’m all about learning about the world through its food, my new backyard included. Back in England, hunting is associated with the rich and privileged. Here, it’s a different story – one where food security, culture and identity have lead roles under the spell of these majestic lands. Heading into Edmonton’s boreal forest gave me the chance to celebrate wild Canadian ingredients, which wouldn’t be accessible for me, especially within a restaurant setting (unless you’re in Newfoundland). That was the narrative I was searching for.
For me, experiencing a hunt was a natural progression as a cook; taking supporting local to the next level. But a step that also left me confused and torn. The goal was to gain a deeper connection to the land by witnessing the sacrifice involved. That said, intention to kill something, let alone the deed of pulling the trigger itself, was and still is, hard. Throw in the fact that my name means ‘peace’ in a bunch of languages and it’s all kinds of confusing.
One fall, we stepped into Narnia; a place where we were guests. Wild animals prancing around living the wild dream, rich shades of green, red and gold mingled with brilliant blue skies amongst abnormally warm fall temperatures. A stone throw from base camp, the realities of manmade destruction came to light in this idyllic, almost untouched part of the world – from logging and oil extraction to monocropping to the highest bidder – the extremes messed with your mind.
Leaving that aside, I was there to learn more about how animals become food. Since appearing in From The Wild seasons 4 through 6, here are some of those thoughts from my brain:
Mother Nature is going to give you what she wants to give you, so expect the unexpected.
I was there on a grouse hunt, but instead, my fellow alumni harvested 3 black bears, 1 duck and 1 doe. That happened to be what was abundant at that time and place, with only a handful of grouse sightings in 4 days. Given the wet fall, we were expecting to find mushrooms galore – we didn’t find a single edible mushroom during bush camp 2017. 2019 was a whole different story with shaggy mane’s and even a mushroom that, when cut, releases a smurf blue stain. Check out ‘Suilis Tomentosus’ if you’re into mushrooms.
Respect the process
Before animals become food, there are a million steps involved – track, identify, shoot, harvest, field dress, butcher and then create a dish worthy of the gift. Quite the journey compared to how quick, simple, convenient and easy it is to pop into a grocery store or when brought directly from an organic farmer.
Waste nothing and make it worth the effort
Cooking in the wild is like cooking in your Grandma’s house – you try not to waste a thing! Once you’ve seen and gone through all of that, it’s not good enough to make something that’s just ok, it has to be delicious to make things right (in my mind, anyway).
I remember the first time I saw a doe fall at the hands of a bullet. Even in stillness, it had grace, elegance and this regal quality. If more people witnessed the process, would they be so quick to waste it? From heart, liver, kidneys, using ‘less desirable cuts’, to rendering down animal fat for cooking oil, roasting bones for stocks, making head cheese, there’s a lot that can be done with fire.
When the intestines were removed whilst field dressing, nature took care of the rest in a beautiful circle of life (even the soil was enriched by the exchange). With every cause, there’s an effect, a dance to find peace and balance.
You can make a tandoor (clay) oven in the wild
During my first two From The Wild series 4 episodes, I challenge lifelong hunter, Jeff Senger, to build me a tandoor (clay) oven in basecamp. For those of you who aren’t familiar with a tandoor, it’s an oven used to cook meats and bake naan (an Indian flatbread) in India. Researching on YouTube for a day, Jeff took some junk from his farm, combined that with cinder blocks and the forest’s finest mud, then by the end of day 3, I served up freshly-made naan using Albertan flour, eggs and dairy in the wild. To pay tribute to the fallen bears, I created a bear dish using hand-chopped mince, rendered bear fat, kidney for richness and garnished with clover because the bears eat clover. The naan had rendered bear fat to add another texture and component to try and make things right for me.
Food is the foundation for great stories
With a BSc (Honours) degree in Business Management majoring in Marketing in hand, I don’t have culinary papers, but I can cook restaurant-quality food in unexpected places. Put simply, I tell stories with food.
Behind every plate is a story. One where I can bring the moment back to life, taking my guests with me at a popup experience. Since finding From The Wild, the concept of edible storytelling has leapt further.
Food shouldn’t be something we just do. And we’re lucky to live in a place where so much edible goodness around us. From The Wild planted a seed about what is possible and I’ve become more and more intrigued ever since