Brent Schrader and Heather Gerum are the pair behind the website Virginia is for Hunter Gatherers , Since late 2011 they have been posting regular recipes and the occasional shenanigans that come with a real food lifestyle. They put their minds together to create a website of grain-, legume- and dairy-free recipes. What started as accountability measure for healthy eating has turned into a fulfilling hobby and they couldn’t be happier about it. Brent and Heather live just outside of DC with their dog, Mason.
Q: How did you get involved in cooking to begin with? Was it something you learned to love early on or did you come to it later?
Brent: For me, it was something that I learned early on. As an only child, my mom had me help out in the kitchen a lot, especially when I didn’t like something, or didn’t believe her when she explained how something was made. This turned into me being somewhat self-reliant for food during graduate school, and definitely helped when Heather and I started dating.
Heather: My father did all the cooking in my house. I was the youngest and had been born on his birthday, so we had a special bond and I was his little shadow whenever I wasn’t doing school work or playing sports. So, I learned a little bit about cooking early on. It wasn’t until I studied abroad in college, however, that I started thinking more seriously about cooking for myself (I didn’t have a college cafeteria within easy walking distance from my apartment in Australia). But the real fun began after I met Brent.
Q: Why is eating grass-fed meat and sustainably-caught fish different? How does it affect your cooking?
Brent: As cliché as it may sound, the meat tastes “meat-ier” and the fish tastes “fish-ier,” but for all the right reasons. The meat typically is leaner, so this does push more meals toward a slower and lower heating temperature, but this is not at all a bad thing. With the enhanced flavors, I also tend to cook them a little rarer than I would otherwise because I enjoy the taste.
Heather: The food simply tastes better. Plus, I feel better—physically and emotionally—having put quality ingredients in my body. When I have a good quality piece of meat or fish or poultry, I’m more mindful of how I season and cook it. It might take a little extra time for me to prepare, but it’s always worth it.
Q: Is it just about health? Or is there more to it than that?
Brent: The flavor and health add-ons aside, I really love how I am able to support people with faces when I make these purchases (rather than an unknown farm/location/corporation), and that it results in a healthier life for me and the animal. It just makes sense.
Heather: It’s about so much more than health. I love knowing where my food comes from—there’s a strange but wonderful satisfaction from it. I’m not some blind bimbo wandering through the grocery store, aimlessly picking up hunks of frozen carcass. I’m Heather and I’m getting my turkey from Amy and Wally. And as I said before, it just tastes better.
Q: How did you learn about grass-fed meat?
Brent: I first ran into it years ago at specialty supermarkets, and wasn’t impressed. It seemed like an indulgent expense that had little to do with me. Over time and research I learned how naíve I was to the benefits of eating food that was healthy before it made it to my kitchen.
Heather: I’m sure I had heard about it in college, but I didn’t give it much thought. Once I was “out in the real world,” it seemed like everyone had an opinion about organic, grass-fed, etc. Still, I kept my distance from the debate, listening to what others had to say and simply nodding respectfully and shrugging when asked what I thought. It wasn’t until Brent and I did our first Whole30 Challenge that I gave it any serious thought.
Q: Why is it so important to have the right ingredients?
Brent: Especially reflecting on the past year or 18 months blogging about my food and paying closer attention, I’ve come to realize the best chefs construct meals using the right, few quality ingredients. Sure, we can put something together that is tasty, but to make something miraculous, the devil is in the details.
Heather: The right ingredients make a huge difference. When you take time to savor the meal in front of you, each morsel should be a positive experience—a burst of flavor and texture that make you smile. Food is fuel. But it can be so much more. Without the right ingredients, it simply falls flat and can even be less than fuel.
Q: What are the most important keys to success for the home chef?
Brent: Patience. I definitely ruined a bunch of food in my beginnings. The thing I usually held onto was finding a few key recipes, and following them exactly at least two times through. After becoming familiar, I began to experiment, and expand from there as I became more comfortable.
Heather: Communication. If you’re cooking with someone, you both need to understand who’s doing what to help you achieve the goal: a delicious home-cooked meal. But even if you’re not cooking with anyone, communicate with yourself. Read and/or write the recipe out at least once before beginning and then as you move through the various steps, make notes to yourself about how things could be better next time.
Q: What are your best tips for home cooking?
Brent: Get two good quality skillets: one cast-iron and one stainless. These will allow for some great searing as well as sautÃ©ing. Also, there is a lot to be said for herbs and spices, experiment with different blends to diversify your menu.
Heather: First, be patient with yourself (and others who might be cooking with you). If you mess up, it isn’t the end of the world. You’re not a doctor trying to save a life. Second, figure out the basics. Whether the meal you want to create is simple or complex, learn how others before you have made it and succeeded. Third, tweak it. Start experimenting with the dishes you know how to make until your heart is happy. Once you have that mastered, it’ll be easier to experiment on a bigger scale. Last, but never least, have fun. Cooking is a beautiful thing, but it’s not a fragile piece of art you can’t touch in the museum. Dab a little sauce on your partner’s nose or laugh when you over cook the chicken and its skins turns out like the leather on your dad’s shoes. Life’s too short to take everything seriously.
Q: What is your favorite recipe using grass-fed meat?
Brent: Hamburgers. There are a whole lot of other things that really hit the spot as well, but there’s something amazing about a grass-fed burger wrapped in lettuce or on a grilled Portobello mushroom cap.
Heather: I couldn’t agree more with Brent on this one. I love burgers. Dressed up with various gourmet toppings or plain-jane burger in a lettuce wrap... I love them all. The fresh, meaty taste of a plump medium-rare burger is hard to beat.