Television personality, chef, author, and outdoor adventurer Georgia Pellegrini helps women tap into their modern day pioneer spirit by teaching them how to grow a small-space garden, assemble the makings of a self-sufficient pantry, navigate using a compass, or even forage for plants that give you energy. Georgia grew up on the same land that her great-grandfather owned and worked: a farm called Tulipwood in New York’s Hudson Valley. She had a passion from an early age for good, simple food, even catching her own trout for breakfast in the creek on her family’s land. Her connection to nature stayed with her through college, and during the years when she ventured into the corporate world of finance. Something was tugging at her to return to the land.
After a bit of soul searching, Georgia decided to leave her cubicle behind and enrolled in the French Culinary Institute in New York City. Georgia went on to work at La Chassagnette, a Michelin-starred restaurant in the south of France, and has been fueled every day since to embrace the process of farm to plate. Georgia chronicles her adventures in meeting food artisans and gathering her ingredients on her wildly popular website, www.georgiapellegrini.com.
I recently had the privilege to meet Georgia at the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival, where we chatted about her about her career, cuisine, and her amazing adventures.
The Daily Meal: You're known for your fearless approach to sourcing ingredients, from the backyard to the wild. How did this concept come about?
Georgia Pellegrini: As a chef, I decided that I wanted to have more interaction with my ingredients and pay the full karmic price of the meal. This meant being willing to face what it means to be an omnivore head on — hunting, fishing, foraging, gardening. To me, food should be experiential, similar to the way our grandparents’ generation viewed food. It should be about pure ingredients that are allowed to speak for themselves. I was fortunate enough to grow up on the same land that has been in my family for 100 years, so living off the land is something that has always been important to me. I guess you could say it is part of my DNA.
Your culinary roots are very traditional. You attended the French Culinary Institute in New York City, then went on to cook in restaurants in New York and France, including Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Gramercy Tavern, and a Michelin-starred restaurant in Provence, La Chassagnette. When did your adventurous side merge with your classical training, and what are your favorite sourcing techniques?
I grew up fishing trout for breakfast and foraging. This merged with my classical training when I began working at farm-to-table restaurants and I had to kill a turkey for the kitchen. That was my watershed moment, when I realized I wanted to begin from the beginning with my ingredients, not simply wait for them to be brought to me. Sourcing, for me, is paying attention to nature around me — food grows in sidewalk cracks, in parking strips, and, of course, in the wild. I grow and make a lot myself and also hunt. And then I make friends with other growers and producers as often as I can and nurture those relationships.
In your book Modern Pioneering, which focuses on homesteading and “superwoman skills,” your tagline is “self-sufficiency is the ultimate girl power.” Tell us more about this concept.
I believe that life begins at the end of your comfort zone. My latest book focuses on what I call “manual literacy”: skills that so many of our ancestors had that we have lost touch with. We often feel that if we aren’t going to be good at something, we won’t try it at all, and this book is a roadmap to trying new things that are fun, edgy, stylish, and alluring. More than anything, it is about empowering yourself to begin using your hands again.
In your travels, are there different parts of the country that focus more on modern-day pioneering cooking styles?
Certainly in the places where I host my Adventure Getaways — Montana, Wyoming, Arkansas, Virginia, etc. But the goal of Modern Pioneering is to show people that they can get back to the land, even if they live in a small apartment without a lot of land around them. For example, you can grow 25 pounds of potatoes in a garbage bag on your fire escape, or make homemade fresh mozzarella in 30 minutes. There are all kinds of step-by-step instructions and illustrations to make this approach to food accessible, no matter what stage of life you’re in. I want everyone to feel like he or she has the tools to tap into her or his natural human instincts even for 15 minutes in the middle of a busy week. It is a very important thing to do as humans, and something that we seem to be moving away from as life becomes so technology driven.
What is your favorite dish to prepare and why?
That’s like asking me to pick my favorite child! There is nothing I don’t eat, and I am one of those people whose memories are defined by the meals I had at the time. I love cooking meat and vegetables — wild hogs, venison, lamb, avocados, eggs, greens, figs, fall apples, yogurt, buttery sauces — these are all things I eat on a regular basis.
You're considered a food heroine! Do you see a more progressive wholesome food evolution trending in our near future that will get us back to our roots?
I think so — I get a lot of emails from strangers who, after reading my books or following along on social media, feel inspired to roll up their own sleeves and experience life more viscerally. My Adventure Getaways evolved as an extension of all of the emails I was getting from strangers asking to go on an adventure with me. It is a tremendous blessing that women come from around the world to spend four days in nature with me stepping outside their comfort zones and making a network of lifelong friends.
You have published several cookbooks. Do you have another one in the works?
I do not! I have written three books in four years and it just about killed me, even though I wouldn’t have traded it for anything. The first two books weren’t cookbooks; they were travel narratives with recipes at the end of the chapters. I traveled the world and met amazing people who let me into their lives for a time so that I could write about them. It changed my life — you could say they were my teachers. Now I get to teach others through my Modern Pioneering workshops and Adventure Getaways and through my website.
Aside from cooking, and being a bad-a$$ adventurer, what are some of your favorite hobbies?
I garden a lot. Even if it’s a simple 20-minute break, I love going outside and planting some seeds or weeding. I go for a lot of long walks. I read a lot, maybe a book a week. And I love taking road trips or getting together with my close circle of amazing friends and having interesting conversations.
In a nutshell, what is your core food philosophy?
I believe that food is more than just about taste — it should be experiential and enliven all of the senses. You should find the simplest, purest ingredients and let them speak for themselves. Celebrate texture, color, and smell in addition to taste.
What is new and exciting in your world these days?
I am very excited to be hosting some spectacular Adventure Getaways this year and next. Each trip is unique, and every time I think to myself that I couldn’t have hand-picked a better group of women to come together. I have also continued to develop my line of apparel and accessories, which has been a creative and rewarding process.