Broyles: ‘Modern Pioneering’ author Georgia Pellegrini on reconnecting with your roots to feed your soul

It’s a Tuesday, and Georgia Pellegrini is coming off a three-day technology fast.

The East Austinite is in the middle of a media blitz for her latest book, “Modern Pioneering,” which included the Austin Food & Wine Festival last weekend, a visit from a production crew from “The Chew” and a photo shoot in the woods with fellow hunter-author Jesse Griffiths.

It’s no wonder she needed a break from all that connectivity.

Pellegrini has had a whirlwind few years since the 2010 publication of her first book, “Food Heroes,” which she wrote while living in southern France. She was there to work at a restaurant and hone the skills she learned at the French Culinary Institute in her native New York, but when the opportunity arose to write about the food artisans and craftspeople she was meeting, she put down her knife and picked up her proverbial pen.

But it was when the 33-year-old former investment banker picked up her gun that heads started to turn.

Killing her first turkey under the watch of chef Dan Barber at Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Hudson Valley instilled in her a desire “pay the full karmic price” for the food she eats, and she embarked on a mission to hunt with as many different kinds of eaters around the country as she could.

That led to 2011’s “Girl Hunter,” which thrust her into the national spotlight: Jimmy Kimmel, the “Today Show,” the New York Times and everywhere in between. She started hosting educational hunting adventures to teach women how to kill deer, elk, turkeys, pheasants and anything else that they could turn into a meal worthy of a magazine spread.

It was about that time that Pellegrini decided it was time for a move. She considered California and Nashville but ultimately landed in Austin, where she’s lived for more than two years and where she wrote her newest book, part cookbook, gardening guidebook and DIY instruction manual.

Even with instructions for making beet lip gloss and pine tree tea, it’s her widest appealing book to date, featuring dozens of recipes and household projects to help you reconnect with the physical world around you.

“We live in such a sterile environment,” she said last week on a walk in her East Austin neighborhood to look for dandelion leaves for one of the salads in the book. “We want everything to be so protected. Technology allows us to be tentative. Everything is always in flux.”

In the book, Pellegrini recalls a grandmother and great aunt who taught her how to see possibility where others saw inconvenience or, worse, didn’t see anything at all.

“My grandmother would break for an interesting stump or a branch,” and then bring it home and decorate it or put it to use somehow, she says.

When she was a kid, she used to paint with crushed wild berries or fresh grass, and as she got older, she started to take a more serious interest in foraging and cooking with what she could grow. “We got dirt under our nails and the day felt longer,” she says.

Even as she went to college, started a career on Wall Street and let herself occasionally get taken over by the need to be connected to a device, she never forgot what her elders taught her on their family farm in upstate New York: Roots matter.

“We’re so transient right now,” she says, acknowledging that her own moves make her part of a generation much less likely to stay put for decades at a time. But just because you move around doesn’t mean you have to forget where you came from and why it’s important to get offline and commit to knowing more about the world in which you live.

“Before technology took away our childlike fascination, we noticed turtles and critters and these little things all around us,” she says as she scans the curbs for those unmistakable yellow flowers — “The unmanicured lawns are the most fruitful” — that will later dress a salad she’ll serve in her white-walled home that is as chic and effortlessly put-together as she.

During other times of the year, she’ll gather loquats or purslane when she’s in Austin, or wild garlic, elderflowers, wild mustard and ramps when she’s on her family land in New York, where she photographed and wrote much of “Modern Pioneering.”

After she’s gathered a bag full of leaves and flowers, Pellegrini takes them back to her house, washes and picks them clean, pulls out two slices of pancetta, a Meyer lemon and cuts a few slices from a red onion.

On the cutting board, the ingredients don’t look like much. On her stove is a single blue Le Creuset Dutch oven. “I have, like three pans,” she says, a big Dutch oven, a smaller one and a cast iron skillet.

“People think you need all these fancy tools to make a nice meal, but our grandmothers didn’t have that many tools to cook amazing food with,” she says. “You need very little to cook well. You need good ingredients to start with, and that’s it.”

She chops the pancetta and cooks it in the pot, rendering the pork fat that will dress the greens. A few minutes and a handful of pistachios later, she throws in the greens, onions, squeezes a slice of that Meyer lemon and turns off the heat.

A pinch of Maldon salt and a dusting of red pepper flakes, and lunch is served. No sugar to combat the inherent bitterness of the dandelions? No vinegar to cut the fat or salt? No and no.

“Fat, salt and fire,” she says. “That’s all you need to cook.”

Spoken like a true pioneer.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Austin360 Eats

Making turkey soup this weekend? Here’s our family’s favorite homemade noodle recipe
Making turkey soup this weekend? Here’s our family’s favorite homemade noodle recipe

I can think of few comfort foods I love more than my family’s chicken and noodles. Homemade noodles can become the star of any soup, but they particularly shine with leftover turkey and homemade stock. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman My mom learned how to make handmade noodles from one of my dad’s co-workers in the 1990s...
Here are 10 Texas whiskeys you might want on your holiday wish list
Here are 10 Texas whiskeys you might want on your holiday wish list

Kentucky isn’t the only state in the U.S. making top-of-the-line whiskey. Texas may not have been doing it for as long as America’s bourbon bastion, but our proud state has proven that we can still hold our own against legacy producers — perhaps in part because the whiskey industry here is still so young and willing to be adventurous...
2017 Beaujolais Nouveau wine label is created by a St. Petersburg artist
2017 Beaujolais Nouveau wine label is created by a St. Petersburg artist

Every year, there are bad things we can count on: taxes and death. And good things: Thanksgiving Day on the fourth Thursday of November and on the Thursday before, the Beaujolais nouveau arrives. What is less predictable is just how this vin de l'annee ("this year's wine") stacks up. Every now and then the young gamay from the Beaujolais...
Holiday gift guide: Food
Holiday gift guide: Food

These gifts will satisfy the appetites of the food and drink lovers on your list. The nubby handles take a little getting used to, but they encourage a proper knife grip by directing the hand into the proper position and enabling fingers to lock in the front and back. The forged steel eight-inch chef's knife and 3.5-inch paring knife slice cleanly...
Of pints and predators: inside the U.K. Parliament’s boozy hangouts
Of pints and predators: inside the U.K. Parliament’s boozy hangouts

LONDON — A plaque on a wall at the Sports and Social Club, a dingy and stuffy bar located next to garbage cans in the basement of the Houses of Parliament in London, reads: “The Code of the Man Cave. What happens here stays here! Violators will be shot — survivors will be shot again.” That jokey warning took on serious undertones...
More Stories