Pellegrini picked hers back up after working on the trading floor at Lehman Brothers for eighteen miserable months, attending culinary school, and doing a short stint in restaurants in New York and Provence, France. Through it all, she was captured by the stories of where the ingredients came from, the foragers, hunters, fishermen and farmers, as well as the food artisans who are preserving time-honored culinary traditions.
Her first book, “Food Heroes: 16 Culinary Artisans Preserving Traditions,” (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2010), allowed her to delve into the stories of people whose lives are shaped by their commitment to traditional food ways. The book was nominated for an IACP award in 2011 and later that year, she published “Girl Hunter,” (Da Capo Press, 2011) her chronicle of a year of living off the land. Her third book — a DIY handbook about going off the grid that is aimed at young urban women — is well underway. Between chapters, Ms. Pellegrini leads hunting and foraging trips in isolated corners of the country.
Pellegrini grew up fishing and foraging on the banks of the Hudson River, on land that was settled by her great-grandfather. The lure of the simple life faded during the decade that she attended the Chapin School for girls in Manhattan and Wellesley College, faded to such an extent that, she says, “I followed the path of least resistance,” and landed on the trading floor of Lehman Brothers. There is, she adds, a silver lining in doing something that makes you miserable:
“It forces you to think about what you are doing when you’re happiest.”
Ms. Pellegrini enrolled in the French Culinary Institute and spent a few years as a line cook in the kitchens at Blue Hill at Stone Barns and Gramercy Tavern in New York, and La Chassagnette in Provence. The hours were as bad as banking and the money not a fraction as good. But cooking, she says, “didn’t feel like work.” The experience also inspired her first book.
“I called it ‘Food Heroes’ and it was the story of sixteen food artisans around the world who held onto dying food traditions and were fighting to preserve their craft,” she says. A friend connected her to a literary agent, who sold the book. Pellegrini used her advance to travel to places like Norway and Ireland, New York City and Madisonville, TN to stalk her subjects.
While “Food Heroes” implores readers to seek out real food such as wild mushrooms, figs and artisanal cheese, “Girl Hunter” makes the case that hunting is no longer just about male bonding in the woods. “It’s about understanding how to participate in nature,” writes Pellegrini in her blog, “how to hunt for food, take only what you can eat, use every part of the animal and treat it with respect all the way to the plate.”
Increasingly, her blog is pulling young urban women to the wilderness to stalk wild plants and shoulder hunting rifles. Over the course of a weekend, in settings such as Belt, Montana or along the Mississippi fly-away in Arkansas, Pellegrini guides, teaches shooting and horseback riding.
“When the economy is bad,” she says, “people are more inclined to get back in touch with what is real and lasting rather than the everyday intangibles like social media, Twitter, and Facebook.”
Her next book, “The Fearless Girl’s Guide to Self-Sufficiency and Survival” is devoted to self-sufficiency in big cities.
“Even if you live in an urban area and are busy by day, it doesn’t mean you can’t grow herbs on your windowsill or have a compost bin on your fire escape.” She also offers tips like how to change a tire, how to use a compass, and other wilderness tools with urban application.
Now living in Austin, Ms. Pellegrini pieces together a living.
“I have revenue coming from different places now. If it’s not books, it’s trips, or it’s publications I write for on a monthly basis, or it’s the artisanal products I sell on Open Sky, or ad revenue on my website. She just filmed an episode of Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern, and hopes to adapt “Girl Hunter” to a scripted TV show in the next year.
“It’s hard to make money as a writer,” she said, adding, ever the banker, “you have to find ways to diversify.”
Even juggling multiple revenue streams, it’s important, she says, for writers to remember why they began writing in the first place. For her, this means: “Be curious and ask questions about your food. And try hunting.”
Tips for Food Writers:
Don’t just quit your job because you don’t like it and you want to be a food writer. I left my job but I had money in savings. Unless you have that, it’s not practical to just walk away from your job.
Start writing simply to express yourself and try writing for online publications. Don’t write with the goal of getting a big name or making big money.
I think the best writing happens when people observe telling details in the world that they can’t make up in their own minds. Always, always, always have a tiny pocket-sized notebook with you and when something happens, write it down.
When I’m writing I have to be fierce about structure and protective of my time. I have to turn off email and text messages because I’m always looking for an excuse to distract myself.