Thursday, May 30, 2013

Learning About Food and Much More from Chef Jesse Griffiths

Posted by Pam Walker on on May 30, 2013

Chefs have long been leaders in seeking out local food and enlightening people about what grows locally and when, proving plate by plate the difference that freshness and thoughtful preparation make in flavor and nutrition.  Jesse Griffiths of Dai Due Austin, however, goes much farther than most chefs go, and leads people beyond the locally farmed to the locally feral and wild.

“Go out and get it” appears in big letters on a T-shirt that Griffiths, tall and tattooed, red-haired and red-bearded, sometimes wears.  And indeed, Griffiths is a very “out there” sort of guy.  He hunts deer, feral hogs, and game birds in the central Texas Hill Country, fishes in local rivers, lakes, and along the Texas gulf coast, and he forages at local farms for fruit, vegetables, dairy products, and eggs.  But you won’t find him or his charcuterie and fruit and vegetable preserves in a restaurant.


Too “out there” to own a restaurant or work in one, Griffiths does his butchering, cooking, and preserving in a rented commercial kitchen, and sets up shop every Saturday and Sunday morning at two of Austin’s busiest farmers’ markets.  There, he sells his kielbasas, wild boar chorizos, and longanisas, his kimchis and chutneys and pepper sauces, and on a portable grill and stove, he makes biscuits, hashes, pan sausages, and tacos for breakfast and beef burgers and wild boar bangers for lunch.

Each Monday, Griffiths and his small staff send an email to a list of about 6,500 people, listing all items available for pre-order by Thursday, to be picked up either at the kitchen on Friday or at the farmers’ markets on the weekend.  The ingredients, provenance, and general preparation methods for the items are described in each email, and so these messages are short primers on how to enjoy what local farmers are currently producing, as well as ways to enjoy charcuterie from wild-caught local fish and overly abundant and environmentally destructive deer and feral hogs.

For the past three years, Griffiths has offered several hunting schools in the late fall and early winter at Madrono Ranch, a large property in the rugged hill country southwest of Austin.  Its perennial spring-fed creek, canyons, and wooded terrain provide habitat for marauding herds of feral hogs and for many wildlife species, including whitetail deer.  Griffiths describes the three-day schools as “a focused environment aimed at teaching both novice and seasoned hunters how to utilize their game to the fullest, from the field to butchering to cooking, and to enjoy the harvest in a celebratory, respectful and frugal way.”

As of last September, you no longer have to travel to one of his hunting schools to learn how to make the most of fish and game. You can buy his beautiful book Afield: A Chef’s Guide to Preparing and Cooking Wild Game and Fish, with photographs by Jody Horton. A finalist for the James Beard award for a single subject book, Afield is a collection of stories and recipes based on Griffiths’ frequent forays into the countryside and along the coast, and includes step-by-step instructions in cleaning fish and fowl and in field dressing and butchering deer and hogs.  As Griffiths notes in the introduction, “Afield is germane to any place game or fish are found.  We emphatically encourage experimentation and substitution with these recipes depending on the geography and seasons.”
To eat Griffiths’ food, though, you do have to go to Austin or to one of his hunting schools, and it’s well worth the trip.

Pamela Walker lives in Houston and is the author of Growing Good Things to Eat in Texas:  Profiles of Organic Farmers and Ranchers across the State, published by Texas A&M University Press, 2009. She is currently working on a book about local farm and food communities in Texas, under contract with TAMU Press.