Wild Chow: Interview with Wild Game Chef Lisa Erickson
September 11, 2012
Lisa Erickson is the epitome of the audience she's trying to reach — a do-it-yourself, hardworking Midwesterner who's trying to put a little panache onto the dinner plate as she brings her wild game from field to table. With a repertoire that includes specialized training in fitness, catering and a couple of years under her belt as a "celebrity" chef in Wisconsin, Erickson prides herself in being able to combine a great meal with the always time-crunched life of a mom. She is the cooking segment host at Minnesota Bound, has made appearances on radio, and has contributed to several publications, including Pheasants Forever.
Eric Conn grabbed an exclusive interview with Erickson, who holds it all together as a wife and mother of four, teaches cooking classes and writes regularly about her culinary journey at Wild Chow. You can check out Erickson on Minnesota Bound's Wild in the Kitchen.
How did you first get involved in hunting and wild game preparation?
My husband and I hunted, and after a couple of years he had attempted to cook many dishes with the wild game he caught, mostly pheasant, and it was always horrible. It was terrible. There were maybe one or two recipes that were alright, and we'd do those over and over, but gosh, it got old quick. I'm being completely honest, after years of throwing it away or trying to eat it, I decided, 'I have to figure this out.'
I've always enjoyed science, I've always absolutely loved food, so after really investigating fitness and the science of food, which were my interest and profession, I realized that wild game was the healthiest meat you could eat. So here became this relationship of finding unique ways you could cook with it, because I wanted to incorporate it into my own diet and my family's diet. Thus my catering business was born, and I started teaching cooking lessons, doing some small jobs for clients I had for fitness training and teaching them to cook.
What kinds of things do people screw up when they're cooking with wild game?
Well first of all, most guys are going after trophy deer, which is fine but you've got to realize, they are just that, trophies. I wouldn't even attempt to eat one, especially with [chronic wasting disease], any animal over 36 months I wouldn't even bother with it for a lot of cooking applications. And you've got to realize that, when you go after an animal like that, it's not going to make the best meat for the dinner table.
Second is that wild game doesn't have a lot of fat in it, so if you're cooking it for a long time it tends to get very, very dry. So you've got to come up with a solution, either to add the fat back into it, or come up with a different way of cooking the meat. I've featured on Minnesota Bound a pheasant sausage where you add some bacon, cook until it's done, and there you go. You can't go wrong with bacon, that's always a favorite.
In your cooking your emphasize time restraint on working parents and the importance of family. How did that theme develop for you?
I had a full-time job, you have limited resources of time and energy, my husband has a full-time job, so hours of preparation just doesn't work unless you want to eat at 9 pm. So I decided to really focus on teaching people to cook with where they were, which is the average everyday person who's got probably a double income and kids and they have to find a way to make it work.
I have a rule for myself that I share with people: if I think of a meal, I have to be able to set it all out on the counter in front of me, the things I want to incorporate, and if I can't create it in a half an hour, from start to finish, then I'm not even going to bother doing it. That's real life, you know. I have kids, I want to spend that precious time I have with them while they're here, so my cooking has to work together with that.
You're bringing together two worlds, fitness and hunting, that don't always get along. How have you been received in the fitness community?
Living in small town makes that easier since most people have exposure to hunting. Now city life, people freak out a little bit. I think wow, 'How far have we come that we don't understand how it gets from farm to table?' People don't understand where the meat comes from, but even 100 years ago this was normal. Smaller communities tend to still have at least some connection to farms and hunting and that way of life, just a different mentality.
But for the fitness people, I think when you talk to them about nutritional value, especially since people are very health conscious today, they understand the health value of wild game and they are more likely to try it. Almost always they're willing to listen to a healthy alternative for their lifestyle.
You say you've eaten road kill before. What was it?
My husband hit a deer, and he hit just perfectly actually, right in the head, so we cut it up and ate it, to make a long story short. The most expensive deer we ever ate, as we spent $13,000 getting our car fixed, but it was very, very good. A lot of people are offended when they hear that story, but hey, why not make good use of the meat?
With an election looming in November, a lot of people have talked about Paul Ryan and identifying with the "Midwestern woman with a gun." Does he win your vote?
Yeah, I think from a political view, the more broad a person is in the different things they're involved in, the more well rounded that person is going to be. So if a person hunts and joins a running club, for instance, I think you're going to have a broader spectrum. So voting for someone who is involved in other areas of life, who understands other people, and especially someone who understands hunting as a part of our history and culture, that's important, that's where we came from, so I'm going to vote for someone who understands that.
Any big plans for your future?
I always thought it would be so fun to do a reality TV show or a cooking show of people having to eat from the land, kind of like cooking mixed with Survivorman, Les Stroud. How fun would that be, to actually eat everything that you caught or hunted? I think it's an interesting concept when you think about what happens if there's a nuclear disaster or event and we have to live off the land, how many people would be able to survive with no grocery store. It's an interesting concept. I also have a cookbook planned for release sometime next Fall, that's on the horizon and I'm excited about that.