Interview with Hank Shaw

James Beard nominated food writer, Hank Shaw, is coming to Toronto this weekend on his international book tour for his book “Hunt Gather Cook”. He’ll be doing a cooking demo at the Brickworks tomorrow, attending Foodstock on Sunday and doing an interview and book signing at the Drake on Monday night. As he drives across the USA on his way to our fair city he found the time to make a pit stop and answer a few questions.


1. You worked as a fisherman, then a line cook, then a journalist. How did you get into hunting/foraging/fishing your own food and blogging about it?

Ooh, long story! I’ve foraged and fished my whole life — it was part of our family’s culture, and my mom taught me how to fish. Hunting I did not do until much later, when I was 32. I started hunting because I felt like it completed a circle of sorts: Plants, Fish, Meat. That’s why I structured my book that way. I started the blog Hunter Angler Gardener Cook in 2007, when I was still a full-time political reporter in California. I did it because politics was getting uglier and I needed an outlet to keep myself sane. Over time, politics got nastier, and so I spent more and more time with the website, and with catering and freelance food writing. Last year I cut the cord and went out solo.

2. What are some of your favourite wild ingredients? What are some duds flavourwise?

God, there are so many great ingredients out there. Not really a fair question! But off the top of my head I’d say ruffed grouse, woodcock, California white seabass, porcini mushrooms, pintail ducks, specklebelly geese, doves, Dungeness crabs, highbush cranberries…

Duds? Toyon berries are pretty blah; they live in California. Snails. They’re OK, but I can pass on them. Walleye kinda bores me. I prefer strongly flavored foods.

3. Is this your first visit to Canada? if yes, What do you expect to find culinarily?

It’ll be my first visit to a town in Canada; I’ve hunted ducks and geese outside the little town of St. Ambroise in Manitoba with a group called Silverback Lodge twice. Foodwise, I have no idea what to expect, but Toronto has a great reputation as an eater’s city. I’m looking forward to checking out Keriwa Cafe, Parts & Labour, Cowbell and Enoteca Sociale while I’m here.

4. We just celebrated our Thanksgiving here, what are some dishes you like to cook for American Thanksgiving?

I keep it simple and traditional. Some meals are not meant to be messed with, and Thanksgiving is one of them. So I do the usual: mashed potatoes, turkey, chestnut dressing, greens, maybe roast squash and definitely pecan pie — although my girfriends’ mother usually makes that.

5. What are some highlights we can expect to find in your new book?

Depends on what you are looking for. Hunt Gather Cook is part wild food primer, part cookbook and part memoir. If you are an angler or hunter, you can expect to see recipes you’ve never seen before, as well as some tips and tricks you might not know. If you are a forager, you will find some plants unfamiliar to you — but since I’ve lived in the upper Midwest, many of the same plants I foraged for in Minnesota and Wisconsin will also be in Ontario.

My favorite chapters are the ones on “misfit” fish — I love the unloved when it comes to food — as well as the wild boar chapter, which has a lot of basic charcuterie in it. I do a lot of meat curing, and this was my chance to put down on paper some of the tricks I’d learned over the years.

6. What are your plans for your time in Toronto?
I will be doing a book signing and cooking demo at the Evergreen Brick Works on Saturday, Oct. 15, starting at 1 pm — I plan on doing some cooking with Great Lakes fish, local rabbit and wild produce. I want to talk about my cooking philosophy, which is founded on the idea that what lives together will go together on the plate. Simple choices, such as flours, fats, acids and sweeteners can all hone a regional individuality to an otherwise standard dish. If I were in the Arizona desert, I’d use prickly pear syrup and mesquite flour in my morning pancakes. Here in Canada I might add some acorn flour to the pancakes. All of my favorite dishes speak heavily of time and place, and I want to help people achieve that in their own neighborhoods, with their own ingredients.
I will be attending Foodstock on Sunday and on Monday night I will, as you know, be your guest at the Drake Hotel for an 86’d event. You can expect to see some wild food there as well. I’ll have some smoked lake fish donated by Hooked Inc that Chef Anthony Rose will transform into canapes for the event.

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