Wild Game Wisdom with Jeremy Critchfield
Food for thought, Reinventing the Meal, and Passing on the Tradition.
When you think of a chef, what comes to mind? Maybe a tall flustered, Frenchman crowned in a towering white hat, twisting his mustache. Although the caricature is funny, Chef Jeremy Critchfield doesn't have much in common besides maybe the facial hair. He prefers a baseball cap over a chef's hat any day. And the accent? A smooth, Pennsylvania southern that'll make you feel right at home.
With 22 years of experience cooking in high-end, destination hotels, and resorts across the nation, Jeremy sought after something a bit more wholesome. Eight years and counting, he found his calling. As the Executive Chef and partial owner of the nationally recognized, 198-year-old historic landmark, restaurant, and inn called Stone House; he spends his days serving guests with unique meals you can't find anywhere else.
Jeremy grew up hunting, fishing, and preparing wild game meals with his grandpa in the Pennsylvania countryside. "We cooked everything that we caught; it was really that, which got me started in my love for the outdoors and wild game and game fish." With a tradition passed down from generation to generation, Jeremy's grandfather played a vital role in influencing his wild game experiences. "My grandad grew up in the Great Depression, and the mantra was 'you waste nothing,' that's certainly influenced the whole way through my career." With a passion for wild game cooking, he couldn't help but share his insights and experiences. Post by post, Jeremy found himself reaching over 45,000 followers on his HuntChef Facebook page. From detailed recipes, chef tips, tricks, and how-to videos, he educates and inspires on all things wild game.
However, not everyone shares the same beliefs. "I saw a woman leave a comment under a post I made. I didn't look at her profile or anything, but she had actually typed: 'please stop hurting those animals and go the grocery store like everybody else.' If I had a video camera replay and rewind, I am sure you could see my mouth drop. It was just a complete lack of understanding; some people are so far removed from where their food comes from, they just don't know." Comments like that only confirm to Jeremy there is more work to be done.
Navigating the controversy on hunting and wild game preparation is a topic he is well equipped to handle. "I am not trying to promote some religion here, but you know it's close to it. I love it. I think it's a big part of this country and what our freedoms are founded on. Public land, private, or whatever the case might be, the conservation efforts that go along with it: exercise, fresh air, comradery, tradition, and then to sit down and tell stories about your adventures. Then saving the best part for last: making a meal out of it. I mean, how much better does it get?" Jeremy only has compassion and empathy for situations alike. He believes the critics have more in common with him then they may think. "There are a lot of people who don't agree with hunting, fishing, and harvesting wild meat, but they are interested in eating healthy. What better way is there than putting your hoods on and going after it yourself? There are no hands between you and your pheasant breast, but there are a lot of hands between you and your chicken breast." With the rise in mass food production, Jeremy is a drop in the bucket of those looking for the cleanest, most organic food there is.
"The fact of life is something's got to die so you can eat, better you go do it than someone else." He believes the quality you are searching for is in your backyard. "This morning, I posted a black bear barbeque, smoked raccoon dish that I did over the weekend, and last time I looked, I had 35-40 comments, and a lot of them were: 'I can't wait to try that.' Responses like that, in that kind of number, tell me people want to do it, they want to try it, but they don't know how and that's where I want to come in and help folks with the how."
Making sure to inspire his followers at home to try wild game food, he brings HuntChef recipes into his restaurant for locals and travelers to try too. His goals are not to simply educate; he's reinventing what a meal can be. "I have a HuntChef section on the restaurant menu, which is a three to six wild game dishes. They all sell great; people are very interested in trying different types of proteins. People get excited and walk out of there saying, 'man, who knew the most delicious pierogi I have ever had in my life, would be wild boar.'"
One bite at a time, Jeremy is changing the perspectives on wild game. "I want to give some insight into how wild game can be amazing table fare."
From the sporadic experimenter to the wild game pro, Jeremy reaches all kinds of folks. With not many restaurants serving game, many come from far and wide to get a taste. "Just recently, I did a 15-course wild game dinner for a private event. it was their 40th annual wild game dinner and my fifth time cooking for them. It was just awesome. I cooked elk, moose, venison, pheasant, quail, walleye, rainbow trout, raccoon, then smoked and stuffed; bacon-wrapped a wild boar. It was so much fun. Shaking their hands, hearing their comments back, makes me want to do it all again." The dinner was great, but something was missing. When serving, he scanned the room and realized the youngest, was in their twenty's. "In my mind, I was asking where these guys' kids are, where are their grandkids, how do we get them to be part of this moving forward."
With a strong belief in passing on the tradition and ensuring conservation efforts continue, Jeremy is teaching his children all he can. "My single best day in hunting ever was this past November. My son, with his crossbow, got his first-ever deer. Then his first-ever turkey, shooting them both within a half an hour of each other. He was there with me to field dress them both, taking it apart from start to finish. I was very, very proud. My kids don't have to be completely avid hunters or fishers; I want them to understand the whole process, where their food comes from, what a meal can be, and be able to defend themselves with a firearm - with all the safety checklists and equipment operations. It's all good life skills that make you feel more confident." Through all aspects of hunting and processing game, it can teach you who you are and most importantly who you can become.
Whether working in the kitchen or out in the woods, he understands the value of proper equipment to help him along the way. "You want to use the best you can, LEM makes the best products, made for the sportsman or really anyone who wants to take charge of their life, diet, or food. For me, I want to produce the best food and recipes I can, for the restaurant, my brand, and product in my butcher shop, and if I can do it with the Cadillac of home, commercial-like product, I'd do that over some subpar equipment any day."
From rattlesnake to raccoon, LEM is grateful to be a part of any of Jeremy's wild-game adventures. If you're looking for some good food or food for thought, you can find him at The Stone House cooking up a delicious meal, or on his HuntChef, Facebook page inspiring thousands daily.
"Helping people get past the blood, sticking your hands in the guts and everything, it's hard I get it, but, for me, that's when I'm alive, seeing where I know my foods coming from... I thank the good lord for the opportunity to do it every day."