As the local food movement has gained more and more momentum through the years, it seems everyone wants a piece of the proverbial pie. But merely slapping the word “local” or “seasonal” on a menu won’t cut it anymore. Now, specific sources are cited per ingredient, giving farmers street cred when it is due. Jesse Griffiths, who began the seasonal, sustainable dinner party Dai Due Supper Club with partner Tamara Mayfield, quietly started living by these ideals long before it was trendy.
Griffiths first developed the idea of Dai Due six years ago, and with time, it's evolved into an online butcher shop, a farmer’s market stand with a cult-like following, and a school offering classes in hunting and butchery. And just last week, Griffiths published Afield, a guide to hunting and preparing wild game and fish.
Already a leader in the local food movement, Griffiths can now boast a seal of approval from Bizarre Foods host Andrew Zimmern, who wrote the book’s foreword. Zimmern writes: “[Jesse] is a tireless worker, who hunts and fishes, appreciates our great outdoors, understands the importance of what we need to preserve in our cultural heritage, and translates it for the modern age — is there anything more important?”
“I would love to see more pro-cooks get out and experience this level of food... gives you a lot of respect for ingredients." - Jesse Griffiths
Griffiths doesn’t just want you to think about where your food comes from — he wants you to go out there and find it. “I would love to see more pro-cooks get out and experience this level of food,” Griffiths says. “It helped me with my cooking, gives you a lot of respect for ingredients. For the home cook, I just wanted to say ‘You can do this.’"
Afield is at once anecdotal and educational in its prose, which juxtaposes Griffiths’ hunting trips across the changing Texas landscape with step-by-step guides to butchering everything from wild boar to squirrel. The 85 accompanying recipes focus on regional comfort food like duck and oyster gumbo, venison barbacoa, squirrel and dumplings, and crab posole.
The book is also strikingly poetic in its photography, all done by artist and outdoorsman Jody Horton. Stark photos clearly depict each step of the butchering process, while vivid, rustic shots capture each completed project as the palatable dish they are. Adding a layer of context throughout, ambient images show dreamy moments from their three-year adventure: two women pluck feathers from doves while savoring glasses of white wine in a grassy field; Griffiths hauls a line against the wind into the surf; a man and his canine companion watch ducks in the sky from the bank of a pond.
“[Jody] loves hunting and fishing so he's a natural at coming along and being quiet and still,” says Griffiths. “I chose the best photographer I've ever met, and he was gracious enough to accept.”
Though Griffiths grew up fishing, he has only been hunting for the past five years. Humble as he is, he will be the first to tell you, “I'm still learning. Cooking and butchering I've been doing for a while. It's all intertwined. I'm no expert on any of these subjects. I just wanted to weave them together from my perspective and present the concept as a whole.”
In a country where gun ownership is more associated with NRA zealots than food sourcing, Griffiths wants to open up people’s minds to living off the land once again.
In a country where gun ownership is more associated with NRA zealots than food sourcing, Griffiths wants to open up people’s minds to living off the land once again. In his introduction, he eloquently writes, “Hunting and fishing for your dinner gives you a distinct sense of ownership and connection to your own food sources — as well as the responsibilities that come with that, like stewardship, conservation, and a deep respect for life and death.”
Already, inquiring minds want to know: Is this the first of many cookbooks to come for Griffiths? Apparently, he and Horton are already brainstorming. “But I’m still a little dazed from this one,” he admits. “Maybe just vegetables next time. They’re easier to catch.”
Now that he’s back from the field, Griffiths has a lot on his plate this fall, including a demo and book-signing at the Texas Book Festival on October 27; a free game sausage-making class at Callahan’s in November; Dai Due hunting school and a wild game and fish supper club; a demo and book-singing at the Sustainable Food Center Farmers' Market Downtown on November 3; a cooking class at Central Market on November 18; and a book-signing and party at BookPeople on December 14.
If you simply can’t wait for any of his cooking classes, Texas Parks and Wildlife just put out a series of YouTube videos starring Griffiths, where you can learn to prepare feral hog tacos, wild duck yakitori, grilled venison, and redfish fried three ways.
Adding in ground bacon and egg yolk keeps these burgers moist and adds lots of richness and flavor. Condiments for burgers are very rel¬ative to who’s eating them, but a good, earthy cheese and mustard are prime additions for venison. Here, we recommend Emmentaler and coarse-ground mustard, along with some spicy arugula for texture. More bacon on top is not a bad idea.
1 1/2 pounds ground venison
6 ounces bacon or pancetta, ground
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 egg yolks
Dash (or more) Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 slices Emmentaler cheese
4 good-quality hamburger buns, toasted
Coarse ground mustard
Mayonnaise (page 54)
Sliced dill pickles
A handful of arugula
1. Build a really hot fire in a grill or preheat a large cast-iron pan over high heat.
2. In a bowl, combine the venison, bacon, salt, pepper, egg yolks, and Worcestershire sauce, mixing well. Divide the meat into 4 balls and form 4 large, 1. ½ inch-thick patties.
3. Brush the grill or pan with a little oil and grill or sear the patties until very well browned on one side, about 5 minutes. Flip the burgers and add the cheese to the top. Cook about 3 minutes more for medium rare to medium. Serve on buns with mustard, mayonnaise, pickles, and arugula.