Girl Gone Wild
With a series premiering on The Travel Channel on May 14, Georgia Pellegrini brings her fearless take on food—and life— to a new audience
by Anne Bruno
Photographs by Jamison Mosely & Kelly Turso
Writer, chef and modern day adventurer Georgia Pellegrini is no stranger to the concept of life beginning at the end of one’s comfort zone. It’s an ethos Pellegrini lives on a daily basis and her success has hinged in large part on her ability to bring others along, both literally and figuratively, to her fearless way of thinking.
Pellegrini, who splits her time between Austin, Little Rock and New York City, has authored three best-selling books. Since 2011, she’s also led outdoor excursions for women, dubbed Adventure Getaways, which are as much about teaching useful skills as helping women recognize and then stretch beyond their own self-imposed limits. She hosts her first television series, “Wild Food,” which premiers this month on Travel Channel.
It was in her early 20s when Pellegrini, now 37 was at the start of a promising career on Wall Street and realized a life-altering truth: Her career path was completely out of sync with the life she wanted to live. A graduate of Wellesley College, her studies in international relations had prepared her for a career in business, but living life out of doors was integral to her identity. “It’s part of my DNA,” Pellegrini explains. “I grew up roaming my great-grandfather’s land in upstate New York where we did a lot of fishing, foraging, everything revolving around nature and food. On the trading floor, I found that I felt boxed in, rigid and so controlled.”
Taking a risk and quitting her job, Pellegrini used her savings to attend the French Culinary Institute. She was working in notable restaurants in New York when a chef friend who was traveling France by bicycle wrote to say he thought a particular restaurant in the south of France would suit her well. “So, I wrote to the chef my friend told me about and asked, ‘Can I come cook for you in September?’ He wrote back, ‘I will receive you in September. But can you come in August?’ I literally packed an overnight bag, got on a plane and I was there. I didn’t have a plan beyond just showing up at his kitchen.”
Pellegrini’s get-your-hands-dirty-trying attitude along with an array of considerable skills (cooking, hunting and fishing are just the beginning), inform everything she has done since her time in France. Her books, travel experiences, website and now cable TV series all reflect an effort to bring nature back into people’s lives and, as it relates to food, bridge the gap between what we eat and an awareness of how it gets to our tables.
“For most people, there’s a mindlessness around food today. The very first thing I recognized living in the south of France is the symbiotic relationship between the people’s lives and their food. They get their hands into it,” Pellegrini says. “There’s an awareness of the whole cycle of life.” She laments the fact that most Americans don’t sit down and share a meal together anymore, noting that time, or lack of it, is an issue. Plus, the fact that so many people simply don’t know how to cook and are out of touch with the origins of the ingredients that make up a meal doesn’t help the situation. “In my grandmother’s generation,” she says, “they’d go out in the backyard and kill a chicken to prepare for dinner.” Yes, she realizes some people are horrified by the thought. But, what Pellegrini finds horrifying is people purchasing parts of a chicken packaged in Styrofoam with no notion that it was once a living creature.
Encouraging self-sufficiency, Pellegrini is passionate about practicing what she calls manual literacy, believing we all need to know what we’re capable of doing with our own hands. “We have this generation of children who’ve never peeled a carrot and only know how to use their hands on a cell phone,” she says. “I think that’s a pretty dangerous thing.” Stepping away from technology and having sensory experiences are a huge part of Pellegrini’s highly customized Adventure Getaways that are designed exclusively for women.
“We all need life-affirming, boundary-pushing experiences. I believe you do that by getting in touch with your natural human instincts, the things we’ve all come further and further away from.” Pellegrini finds this to be especially true for women who, she observes, tend to self-edit. “My goal in all of the Adventure Getaways is to create a place for women to try new things with abandon and not expect to be perfect at something the first time. My realization in seeing what happens when it’s just women is that they let their hair down in a way they wouldn’t otherwise.” Plenty of men have expressed interest in the trips but at some point, Pellegrini decided that her contribution to the world was to create these experiences specifically for women. “There’s plenty of ways for men to experience the outdoors. And that’s part of the problem; there are not as many ways for women to do it.”
In recent years, mainstream media has received a fair share of criticism for not featuring travel shows hosted by women, or for favoring the bikini-clad beach-hopping variety. While Pellegrini is happy to break Travel Channel’s own recent dry spell, she’s quick to point out that “Wild Food” is geared toward men and women alike. In each episode Pellegrini travels to a different global destination, and through fun, adrenaline-pumping experiences led by locals, explores not only the food, but also its place within the culture.
The premier episode takes place in Louisiana’s bayou country surrounding New Orleans. The region, known around the world for its rich cultural heritage, food and friendly people, provides ample opportunity for Pellegrini to introduce viewers to new culinary-related experiences. Her delight in the people and their shared adventures is obvious, whether they’re taking her crawfishing, wild boar hunting from an airboat, or bow fishing at night. At the end of each episode, Pellegrini will cook a meal using recipes and ingredients featured in the show.
“It’s really about breaking bread with local cultures, understanding their cuisine, their lives, and what’s unique and special about it. I believe that the act of sitting down and eating together is a great unifier. People can disagree on so many things but at the end of the day, everyone loves to eat. If we can understand each other through food and using your hands to create a meal, I think that’s an incredible thing.”
The first episode of “Wild Food” airs Monday, May 14th at 10 pm with a second airing Sunday, May 20th at 1pm.