Over the last several months, Glenn has emphasized the importance of bringing together individuals who share the same goals and unifying principles so that we can learn from one another. GlennBeck.com is working to fulfill that goal by sitting down with some of the most interesting minds to give you an inside look at who they are and what they are working on.
From the conference rooms of Lehman Brothers to the kitchens of Michelin Star restaurants, to the backwoods of the United States, chef and entrepreneur Georgia Pellegrini has been on a fascinating journey. She spoke to GlennBeck.com assistant editor Meg Storm about why she left Wall Street for culinary school, how she developed her passion for hunting, and the ‘pioneering’ skills every American should have… oh, and there might be a delicious recipe or two along the way. Enjoy!
Below is a transcript of the interview:
You have had a very interesting career path from working on Wall Street to cooking in Michelin Star restaurants to hunting the Great Plains. Can you talk about that transformation?
After college I took the path of least resistance at the time, which was investment banking. A lot of people just went into consulting or banking or graduate school. I got an offer from Lehman Brothers. It was a lot of money for a college student, so I took it.
I got to the point where I felt like it had crushed my soul. I just realized how unhappy I was, and I thought to myself, ‘Well, what am I doing when I am at my happiest?’ I think the silver lining is: When you are doing something that doesn’t make you happy, it forces you to think about what you’re doing when you’re happiest. For me, it was always food and cooking.
I had this longing to get back to my roots. I come from upstate New York. I grew up on the same land my great grandfather lived on. I grew up living off the land – growing food and keeping chickens and honeybees. I used to fish trout and eat it for breakfast. I just wanted to find a way to get back to that.
I decided to enroll in culinary school [French Culinary Institute], and it was definitely a leap of faith for me – and definitely a pay cut!
But I realized pretty quickly that even though I was working the same crazy hours and making below minimum wage with no benefits, it didn’t feel like work in the same way to me. It felt fun, and I knew that it was the right thing for me.
So I slaved away in kitchens in New York [Gramercy Tavern and Blue Hill at Stone Barn], and I also went to cook in a restaurant in the south of France [La Chassagnette]. Interestingly, I was in the south of France when Lehman Brothers collapsed, so I knew I had made the right decision.
In that moment, I started to think about what else I wanted to do in the food space. Someone forwarded something I had written to a literary agent in New York, and she asked if she could talk to me. I took a bus to the nearest town and got in the phone booth and called New York. That is how my first book, Food Heroes: Sixteen Culinary Artisans Preserving Tradition, was born.
It happened totally serendipitously.
I read that it was the act of having to actually kill and prepare a turkey at one of the restaurants you worked in that made you really start to think more about where ingredients come from. What was so eye opening about that experience?
During my time as a chef, I became much more interactive with my ingredients. I believe food should be experiential. I am a big proponent of interacting with your ingredients in some way. When I was in New York, I had to kill some turkeys for a restaurant I was working in.
That was a watershed moment for me. I knew that I would always eat meat, and I loved to eat meat. I was good at butchering animals and fileting fish. I grew up getting dirt under my fingernails. But I had never really faced the casual way in which nature treats life and death and paid the full karmic price of a meal. I had never had the opportunity to treat the animal with integrity all the way to the plate and step outside of our factory farm food system. I decided, in that moment, I wanted to learn how to hunt my own food.
I set out on this journey to learn how to hunt, and that was sort of the story of my second book, Girl Hunter: Revolutionizing the Way We Eat, One Hunt at a Time, which was the journey over field and stream in search of the main course. It focuses on all the crazy characters you meet along the way – the people who took me under their wing and taught me how to live off the land. It was a wild journey, but it felt right to me because, for the first time, it felt like I had really tapped into that natural human instinct that we all have deep down. I knew that I wanted to have that experience of heightened senses – seeing differently, hearing differently, smelling differently. I vowed, in that moment, to live a life more connected to my roots and where I come from – where we all come from.
Long story short, I have been able to make a career out of it.
You touched on this a little bit, but why do you believe it is so important for people to understand where their food comes from?
I think it makes us better human beings. I think it makes us better to one another. I think it makes us better stewards of the world and the land.
At some point, I realized I had all these vulnerabilities. Even though I had lived off the land, there were so many things I didn’t know how to do. I had gone to college, but I didn’t know how to fix my own toilet. I think having these vulnerabilities and shaking them is a very important thing.
Knowing where your food comes from is a very similar concept. We have these factory farms, and animals are suffering. I realized we are all kind of proxy executioners, but I think there is something very powerful about doing it yourself. I think when you know what has had to happen for food to get to your plate, you appreciate it more. It tastes better. There are more memories associated with the meal. If food is such a transactional experience, it loses its joy. It loses its meaning. And it loses all the memories. I have so many food memories, and I know most people do. Beyond basic sustenance, it is your job as a chef or someone who is cooking for others to bring people together and give people pleasure and happiness.
To not care or know the source of anything is to have an anonymous relationship with food. It is not the relationship human beings were meant to have. You go to the grocery store and buy a boneless, skinless chicken breast wrapped in plastic with no sign it was ever a living thing. No one knows how to quarter a whole chicken anymore. People see a whole chicken and don’t know what to do with it or how to roast it. I think that is too bad, and I don’t think we are our best selves as human beings when we live that way.
I’ve looked at your website – and even your book cover for Girl Hunter – and there is a lot of gun imagery. Do you ever face any backlash for being so open about your passion for hunting?
I have been surprised at how little backlash I have experienced, and I think it is for two reasons.
One is that I see everything through the lens of food. I am a chef first, and everyone needs to eat. Most people love food. Food is a connector. It is one of those great unifiers. People can disagree on so many things, but they can break bread and there is that union. I think I have a very specific, philosophical approach to why I hunt. The editor who bought my book was a vegetarian. The only different between us was that she realized she wanted to break out of the industrial food system the way I did, but she couldn’t pull the trigger and kill the animal. I could.
For me, I think it is just about being a conscious and participating in the cycle of life. I always say: We eat animals and plants, and animals eat plants, and plants eat from the dirt. It is this beautiful cycle. I think because I can tell that story, I have gotten less backlash.
The second reason is that I don’t fit the profile of the typical American hunter. I think people have these stereotypes, and the reality is: There is no reason that we all can’t be hunters. I am very feminine, and I maintain that femininity while doing this thing that is associated with a very masculine culture. So I think – to some degree – I have changed the face of what hunting is and changed the discussion of why I do it. That has helped.
You now organize ‘Adventure Getaways’, which, from what I have seen, look really fun and interesting. How did those come about?
When my book came out, I hosted a bunch of female writers on a weekend with me. It was to teach them some of these skills. We did some clay shooting and fly-fishing and s’mores around the campfire. They wrote about that experience, and I got so many inquiries from women around the country who were sharing their stories with me. A lot of them were going through difficult things in their life, and they were sharing their vulnerabilities with me.
I realized that what I was doing was resonating with women and empowering them. I received a lot of requests from women asking if they could go on these adventures with me, but I had never planned to do another one. Because of these inquiries, I decided to plan another one as an experiment. It sold out and had a waiting list.
It has really snowballed from there. I do several a year now, and they sell out quickly. It really is a magical experience. A lot of women describe it as their ‘unraveling’. Some of them are busy moms who are devoting everything to their children and husbands, and this is their chance to do things that scare them or do things they have never done before. It is a chance to experience life more viscerally and to step outside their comfort zone. It is an emotional experience, but it changes them. They get this Amazonian look in their eyes, and they bond for life. These women have reunions long after, and a lot of them choose to come back year after year.
I think it very unexpected but totally magical, and it is a gift that I get to do it.
Editor’s Note: Georgia has two upcoming Adventure Getaways. Learn more about them HERE.
That is wonderful. What is a typical itinerary like for one of these weekends?
I have two in Montana this fall. Basically, the weekend includes a whole range of pioneer skills. We teach people how to clay shoot. A lot of people will be using a gun for the first time. Some are more experienced. We try to break people up based on their experience level. In this case, we teach them how to hunt birds. I teach them how to clean the birds and cook the birds they hunted. And then they eat them.
We also do fly-fishing, which is a wonderful experience because it requires a certain technique in learning to tie flies and casting. We are in the streams of Montana, and it is really beautiful. We go horseback riding through the fields, which is scary for a lot of women. But they also love it. We do ATV rides 10,000 feet in the mountains to see wildlife and these unbelievable panoramic views. We do falconry, which is awesome. You watch these falcons do the hunting for you. It is a pretty spectacular sight.
And then there is just wonderful girl bonding – lots of laughing and s’mores around the fire with great wine, five-star food, and luxurious accommodations. It is that wonderful balance of creature comforts and getting that dust and wind in your hair.
What is the number one thing you hope women take away from one of your Adventure Getaways?
I hope women surprise themselves and feel more fearless after the weekend. I think most women are perfectionists, and we are our own worst critics. I want women to try new things with abandon, be okay with failing, laugh at themselves, and support and encourage each other.
Life is hard. Being a woman has so many challenges. And I think it is really wonderful when you can face those vulnerabilities and challenges with a sense of fearlessness and an idea in your mind of, ‘Maybe I can do this. Maybe I’ll surprise myself.’ That’s the feeling of exhilaration and empowerment you get when you achieve something you didn’t think you could. It’s totally special and addictive. Once you experience it, you just keep wanting to. So that is my goal for them all.In a similar realm, your latest book, Modern Pioneering: More Than 150 Recipes, Projects, and Skills for a Self-Sufficient Life, offers a really interesting array of tips aimed at self-sufficiency.
Yes, my third book just came out, and it teaches people ‘manual literacy’. It’s the idea of learning those skills our grandparent’s generation had – that we should still have – but we have all lost touch with because we have become so specialized in our knowledge and so much of lives are technology driven now.
It gives people the access to those skills in a fun way. I don’t expect everyone to have hours on end to do this kind of stuff, but it’s something you can do in 15, 30 minutes – things that you can up cycle. I want to help people be more self-sufficient, even if they live in a small urban space.
1. I think people should know how to change their own tire. I think it is really great if you are able to figure it out when you are stuck on the side of the road.
2. I think people should know how to find their way with or without a compass. You should be able to use nature to find your direction.
3. And I always encourage people to learn how to grow something. Even if you have no land whatsoever, you can still grow 25 pounds of potatoes in a garbage pail on your fire escape. Just the idea of finding ways to interact with nature – even if you don’t have a lot of land around you – is really fun.
If you don’t mind putting on your chef’s hat for a minute –
Now that fall is just around the corner, what are some ingredients people should begin incorporating into their recipes?
As fall rolls around and the temperature starts to get colder, root vegetables become really wonderfully sweet. Parsnips are really wonderful roasted or pureed into soup. I love kale in the colder months – it starts to taste a little better. And there are so many wonderful squashes that come out – acorn squash, buttercup squash, and butternut squash. I just love all those gourds that pop up this time of year. So I would focus on root vegetables and some of those greens that do well in the cold.
Do you have any other projects you’d like to talk about?
I have my line of apparel that came out that has been really fun and popular. The website is ShopByGeorgia.com. It is all made in America. We do custom cuts, custom fabrics, all made in LA. It is totally designed by me.
People are loving them. They are a little bit edgy and have funny sayings on them that are a little in your face. I always get stopped when I wear one of them by people wanting to know where I got it. It is fun to wear.
There is a little bit of a trend starting with people taking pictures of themselves in the shirts, so we started an Instagram feed with all these people. My lawyer just sent me picture of him wearing one at his law office. It’s really fun. The Instagram feed is starting to get colorful.
That is such a great conversation starter! So before we wrap up I have a few ‘lightening round’ questions for you – one word answers will suffice.
What’s your favorite food to eat?
Probably avocados. I love everything, but if I had to choose one thing right now, it would be avocados.
What’s your favorite food to cook?
Meat of any kind.
Who do you most admire?
I would say the older women of my family. They have an amazing knowhow and instinct and wisdom that I always look up to. I feel like I am a sponge when I am around them trying to gain their knowledge.
What’s your favorite place to visit?
The land that has been in my family for 100 years. It’s called Tulipwood. I just love visiting it. The land has so much history for my family.
This transcript has been edited and condensed.
Photos Reprinted from Modern Pioneering, courtesy of Clarkson Potter