Working in restaurants, it’s easy to get jaded by opening packages,” Texas Wildlife Association Member Griffiths said. “For me, it’s inspiring to have a deeper connection to the food.”
For him, the most direct connection comes from fishing and hunting. The lifelong Texan, who was reared in Denton, began fishing as a child and still spends the warm months pursuing catfish, white bass, crappie and crabs.
Hunting was not part of his childhood, so he taught himself as an adult.
“I bought myself a 20-gauge shotgun and found a place to go dove hunting,” Griffiths said. “In an unprecedented accident, I shot the first dove I aimed at. Of course, I missed all the rest—about two boxes worth of shells—I shot at that day, but the experience opened up a whole new world to me.”
These days, in the late fall and winter, Griffiths fills his freezer with venison, wild pork and a few ducks.
“Hunting immerses you in the experience from the initial harvest through the butchering, packaging and preparation,” said Griffiths, who authored Afield: A Chef’s Guide to Preparing and Cooking Wild Game. “And along the way, it instills a sense of gratitude for not only the food but for nature. Plus, you get to tell the story, which is one of the best parts.”
A second strong connection comes from sourcing food from local farmers and ranchers.
“Once you make that connection, it’s hard to go back,” Griffiths said. “It’s just so satisfying to experience the hunt and to get to know the people who produce your food; there’s no other way I’d consider eating.”
From the beginning, he and his partner Tamara Mayfield laid the foundation of their businesses on local food sources. In addition to the restaurants which Mayfield operates, Griffiths runs the New School of Traditional Cookery that hosts butchering, cooking and hunting schools.
“When it comes to eating locally in Texas, we can appeal to a sense of heritage,” Griffiths said. “It’s a matter of eating like our great grandparents did—they probably had an incredible diet that was close to the land.”
In addition to an agrarian lifestyle, Texas had its own local food cultures that were influenced by the ingredients at hand. Grass-fed beef, pork and poultry, pastured eggs, wild game, fresh-caught fish, garden-fresh produce and fresh fruits, both domestic and wild, were staples. Immigrants moving to the Lone Star State brought their own spices and preparations to bear on the land’s bounty.
“Travel abroad really showcased cuisines built on local ingredients
for me, prompting me to ask, ‘What would happen if we locally sourced food from Central Texas?’” Griffiths said. “At our restaurants, we limit ourselves to the things we can get locally, but we don’t limit ourselves to
For the past five years, Griffiths has partnered with TWA to host a hunt-to-table dinner. An evening designed to introduce participants to impeccably prepared game as well as hunting and conservation is an idea that resonates with Griffiths.
“If people understand the origins of their food, they will be inspired to take better care of our natural resources,” Griffiths said. “A connection to food makes us more aware of our connection to the land and how the way we take care of it is directly tied to our future.”
“I love what TWA does for Texas. It educates Texans of all ages, promotes conservation, supports landowners and recruits hunters to keep our tradition alive. It’s a great organization that is committed to the land, the wildlife and the people who care about them.”—Chef Jesse Griffiths
Hunt to Table 2020
Now in its fifth year, TWA’s annual Hunt to Table dinner serves up conversation, inspiration and conservation.
“It began as a way to connect those people who are interested in locally sourced food with the tradition of hunting,” said Kristin Parma, TWA’s Membership Coordinator. “And it has grown into a wonderful mix of people—some experienced hunters who are interested in learning new ways to prepare game, some novice outdoorsmen who are interested in learning more, and some people who were introduced to hunting at an earlier dinner and are now embracing the lifestyle.”
The dinner, which features wild game and locally sourced produce prepared by Chef Jesse Griffiths and his team, is served at a single table set up outside. For the second year, it will be hosted at Rain Lily Farm in Austin.
“It’s casual, comfortable, low-key, fun—and incredibly delicious,” Parma said. “It’s no secret that food brings people together, especially when it’s prepared by someone as talented as Chef Jesse.”
Conversations flow easily. Strangers become friends. Minds open.
“In the course of the evening, we celebrate Texas’ rich history of private land ownership and voluntary land stewardship,” Parma said. “It helps foster an appreciation for the role that landowners play in conservation for those people who might not own land themselves.”
While the event also showcases the opportunities for novice hunters offered by TWA’s Adult Mentored Hunt Program, the dinner goes beyond recruitment.
“Sharing a meal causes people to slow down and be mindful about the food they’re eating,” Parma said. “It opens the door for meaningful conversations about sustainability and conservation, which showcases our shared connection to the land, regardless of where we live.”
April 30, 2020
Rain Lily Farm | 914 Shady Lane, Austin, Texas
$150 per person • Limited to 100 guests
On the Grow
TWA is working to expand the Hunt to Table dinners to Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and other areas of Texas. The first step is finding an appropriate venue such as an urban farm, a private ranch or retreat, or event space. TWA is looking for suggestions or potential hosts. TWA is also striving to provide more adult mentored hunting opportunities on ranches throughout Texas. Contact TWA with leads for either program.
For more information on Hunt to Table or Adult Mentored Hunting, contact:
(800) 839-9453 • firstname.lastname@example.org
(720) 240-6724 • email@example.com
(800) 839-9453 • firstname.lastname@example.org
Upping Your Game
Griffiths shares some of his favorite tips for making wild game a tasty part of life.
Take care of your harvest.
Proper cleaning, handling, processing and storage minimizes the “gamey” taste that many people perceive as a negative.
Know your cuts.
Some cuts with a lot of connective tissue such as venison shoulders or neck roasts need to be cooked low and slow, while others such as tenderloins or back strap require a quick-cooking at high heat. Because game lacks fat, be careful not to overcook.
Experiment with flavors that enhance the taste of wild game such as maple syrup for a sweet note or vinegars for a sour note. Fruits, such as peaches or blackberries, that deliver acidity and sweetness pair well with wild hog, while the savory umami of soy sauce complements venison. Spices such as cinnamon, clove and star anise elevate duck. Fresh herbs add brightness.
Keep it simple.
If guests are unfamiliar with game, introduce it in a familiar dish such as chili, burgers, meat loaf, breakfast sausage or pasta sauce. A well-prepared favorite is a non-threatening point of entry that also demonstrates game can be part of everyday eating.
Going Hog Wild
Wild hogs are Griffiths’ hands-down favorite game species
“When it comes to preparations, wild hogs offer so much diversity,” Griffiths said. “Because they have a little more fat than most game species, they give you flexibility that other species don’t. Plus, they just taste good.”
Griffiths is currently writing The Hog Book, a definitive guide to hunting and cooking wild hogs. The recipe below provides a sneak peek of his work-in-progress.
by Chef Jesse Griffiths
Sorry, I had to. Beet-y, rich and evocative of very cold weather, Borscht is a simple favorite, and this recipe works well with a lot of different game meats and even birds. There are some obvious non-traditional additions, such as the coffee and orange, but these bring a richness and balance to the dish.
- Serves 4–6
- 3 ½ pounds bone-in boar cuts, like shanks, lean country ribs or arm roast
- A few bay leaves
- 2 cloves
- ¼ cup lard or butter
- 1 large white onion, diced
- 2 large carrots, diced
- 2 teaspoons caraway seeds
- Salt and pepper
- 2 pounds fresh red beets, washed and then peeled, peelings reserved, beets diced
- ½ head red cabbage, chopped
- A few little turnips (if you can get good little turnips), diced
- 1 cup strong coffee
- Juice and zest of an orange
- 1 cup good quality sour cream
- 1 bunch dill, roughly torn
Put the shanks, beet peelings, cloves and bay leaves in a large pot and cover with about 4 inches of water (or put all of this in a Crock-pot® and cook on low heat for about 8 hours). Add a generous pinch of salt and bring to a simmer over high heat. Lower the heat to medium, and cook until the meat is tender and falling off the bone, about 4–6 hours, depending on the animal. Strain the broth, reserving the 6 quarts of broth and the shanks. Pick the meat from the shanks and set aside. Discard the bones, cloves and bay leaves.
In another large pot, heat the lard or butter over medium-high heat. Add the onions, carrots and caraway seeds. Cook, stirring often, until the vegetables are almost tender. Season with salt and pepper. Add the reserved broth, picked meat, beets, cabbage, coffee and turnips, if using. Simmer for about 45 minutes, or until the beets are tender. Check seasoning and add the juice and zest of an orange.
Serve in large bowls with a dollop of sour cream and a scattering of dill on top.