Andrew Zimmern makes the case for wild-caught food in 'Wild Game Kitchen'

Andrew Zimmern crouches to cook Bison.
Andrew Zimmern on the set of his new show, "Wild Game Kitchen."
Photo provided

Minnesota’s hunting seasons are just around the corner. Maybe you’re planning on having some venison on the table, maybe that’s not your thing.

A new show from Andrew Zimmern makes the case for some pretty appetizing looking wild game. “Wild Game Kitchen” premieres Sept. 19 on the Outdoor Channel.

Zimmern is an Emmy-winning and four-time James Beard Award-winning TV personality, chef and writer, based here in Minnesota. Host Cathy Wurzer caught up with Zimmern about the show and his longtime love for the outdoors.

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Audio transcript

CATHY WURZER: Hey, it's Minnesota now on MPR news. I'm Cathy Wurzer. Thanks for being with us. Minnesota's hunting seasons are just around the corner, maybe you're planning on having some venison on the table, maybe that's not your thing. A new show from Andrew Zimmern makes the case for some pretty appetizing looking wild game.


ANDREW ZIMMERN: Crispy, medium rare bison. It pairs up so beautifully with tamarind chutney and peanut sauce. Can't stop, won't stop.


CATHY WURZER: Andrew, of course, is an Emmy award winning four-time James Beard Award winning TV personality chef and writer based in Minnesota. Welcome to the program. It's good to hear your voice.

ANDREW ZIMMERN: Oh, likewise. Nice to talk to you, Cathy.

CATHY WURZER: You've done bizarre foods so you're no stranger to the offbeat. What's behind the focus on wild game for you?

ANDREW ZIMMERN: I was sitting in an icehouse about three years ago on a lake about-- we're all good conversations start. It occurred to me while I was talking about the fish that were coming out of the hole in the ice, we were really under serving our natural resources all around us. And I just thought there's this gaping hole in our food canon for natural and wild foods.

That's from forage plants and mushrooms, to a that someone pulls out of the water, right on down to 5 pounds of ground venison that your neighbor knocks on your door and thinks he's doing a favor by handing it to you. And most home cooks are like, now, what do I do with that?


ANDREW ZIMMERN: It's extremely discouraging for folks.

CATHY WURZER: I wonder, going back to something you said about, there's not really been an emphasis as kind of-- let's face it, for some people an ick factor when it comes to natural or wild foods. Where do you think some of this comes from, this aversion?

ANDREW ZIMMERN: Traumatic childhoods. We've all been the little kid that had the whole trout put down in front of you at a restaurant and someone in the family is like, oh my gosh, there's a head on it, or grandpa used to put the 20 walleye in the fridge and they'd eat 16 and then after three days, four of them would get frozen. Well, those four got a little bit sketchy and then in the middle of winter, when they came out, got defrosted and got, let's say, over or undercooked or not necessarily paired with some delicious foods some of us developed problems with eating them.

We also are a state where while we still do have people who hunt in the morning for their dinner and hunt in the evening for their meals the next day, it's not done on a regular everyday basis because of licensing and laws and the way our state has grown. So we've sort of gotten about a generation away from having regular access.

CATHY WURZER: Exactly. Now, I'm a fly angler so I fly fish for trout. I've done some hunting. You obviously are also an outdoors person. So can I ask you then, with this new show that you're talking about here, where do you come up with your recipes because I have a really hard time when I catch something, figuring out what the heck to do with it? Got to be honest with you.

ANDREW ZIMMERN: Well, this is the thing, it's not that hard to start to translate recipes over and I'll give you a great example with trout and it's in season one and I think it's going to change your life. People have always taken fish and wrapped it with bacon. I mean, the be all and end all has always been the crock pot for traditional game cooking. But the other one has been bacon. Wrap anything in bacon and roast it in the oven. Now, part of that was smart because it base it in fat and most wild meats are leaner than their supermarket cousins.

But with trout, I wanted to put more salt, more saline on it and I also didn't want to dry it out. Some trout are very, very thin and I like cooking them on the bone. And I wanted to cook it over open fire and not in a skillet. And so I wrapped it in paper thin slices of prosciutto that I got at the local Italian market and then I just made a green sauce. Just a lot of herbs, olive oil, lemon, a shallot, pureed in the food processor, the blender, and just put it over the fish that had been wrapped in the prosciutto which had gotten crispy and delectable.

It had basted the trout in that cured antique porcine excellence that prosciutto represents and I was like, oh my gosh, I'm really onto something here. And then I made it another time and sort of worked out some of the wrinkles. So a lot of it is inspiration. A lot of it is what I call recipe transfer. Wow, I made that with salmon maybe it would be delicious with a wild halibut.

CATHY WURZER: I hear your executive producing Feral, which is another outdoor channel series featuring, Yia Vang who I adore. what's that all about?

ANDREW ZIMMERN: Well, the idea with Hmong food, the Hmong are a ethnic group of folks who have never really had their own country and the largest group of Hmong in the nation came to Minnesota in the 70s from an area where three or four countries all come together in Southeast Asia.

They believe very much so in a cook what you have in front of you mentality and always have and a lot of this is historically because of their persecution and their lack of their own geographical footprint in the world where they could grow things. So they are the ultimate forger MacGyver food culture, and incredibly delicious. So Yia likes to take food in the wild, which is at the essence of Hmong cooking. So we produced another show for Outdoor Channel where he goes after invasive species and then cooks them.


ANDREW ZIMMERN: Yes. So if he's down in Florida getting wild snakes, he's down there with the local guys who were trying to do their job to eradicate this horrific invasive. We can eat our way to a safer and healthier planet. So we have Yia on the move, out in the world, with other people experiencing what it's like to take your own food, whether it's iguanas, lionfish, snakes, turtles, wild javelins, whatever you have and it's really a lot of fun.

CATHY WURZER: Wow, so I want to go back to the show that we've been talking about The Wild Game Kitchen, and thank you by the way for giving me something new to think about when I get my trout. Bison, venison, obviously rabbit, elk, pheasant, you are an outdoorsman, what wild game have you not had a chance to savor yet? What's out there that you want to try to bag and cook?

ANDREW ZIMMERN: Oh my gosh. First of all, I'm the luckiest person in the whole world because I'm not one of those people that lives out on the edge of the grid who hunts and fishes every day. I'm lucky if I get 20 days a year out in the field or the water. But it's a love of mine. But for 14 years I made a show where I sort of got to call the shots about what we wanted to do.

So I still think my favorite meat is kudu in Southern Africa. The meat is pale pink and it's a small venison species in Southern Africa. It runs in about four or five countries. It's sort of, to me, I said this is the veal of wild game. It's just breathtaking and so maybe I'd like to go for kudu again if that's a fair enough answer.

CATHY WURZER: I think it is.

ANDREW ZIMMERN: I'm sure I'm going to hang up with you and I'm going to say, oh my God, I forgot about. But the fact of the matter is that as an outdoors person, sustainability and preserving our natural world is of paramount importance to me. And so I'm fine with the 14, 15 animals that I regularly go after that are in sufficient enough numbers that we're not going to harm their populations if we observe the right rules and regulations.

CATHY WURZER: Andrew Zimmern, I wish I had more time with you. I love your stories. I've always loved your stories. You've done so much and you're such an interesting guy. I wish you all the best with this new series. I'll be watching for the other series too Feral with Yia Vang. Take care of yourself.

ANDREW ZIMMERN: Thank you, my friend.

CATHY WURZER: I adore Andrew I never tire of talking to him. Andrew Zimmern is an Emmy winning, four-time James Beard Award winning TV personality chef and a writer based in Minnesota. His new show Wild Game Kitchen premieres at 8 PM September 19 on the Outdoor Channel.

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