CARNIVORE Fare Game – Chef Jesse Griffiths Interview Ben O'Brien The Unforgettable Food Created by Chef Jesse Griffiths is All Local, Mostly Wild, and Undeniably Creative Photos by Jody Horton Jesse Griffiths pokes his head into his walk-in freezer and cracks a wry smile. The small space is bursting at the seams, filled to the brim with crates, barrels, and trays harboring Griffiths’ favorite things. “Oh man, check this out,” he said, eyes going wide as he examines a fresh package. “Check out these fresh lemons. Just came in. That’s awesome.” The red-bearded chef gives a tour of the shelves that wrap around the cold storage, a library of categorized ingredients ready to be plucked by one of his kitchen staffers — fresh in-season vegetables, locally killed wild boar hams, and freshly caught Pompano from the Texas coast. Griffiths knows every item, where it came from, and how it fits into one of his culinary adaptions. He quickly shifts gears and dodges a few passing workers, breaking out into an open kitchen and bar. Griffiths is subdued and focused amidst the frantic pace of the restaurant, dialed in to the smallest details of each dish. “It’s busy,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean we can’t make something different, a real meal that tells a story.” There’s the Wild Boar Burger with pickled grilled mushrooms, boar pancetta, bibb, and red eye mayonnaise. There’s Mike’s Butcher Shop Hash featuring cured and smoked meats, home fries, turnip, two eggs, and beet ketchup. And be sure to try the Bison Lettuce Wraps. Griffiths’ Austin, Texas-based Dai Due is transitioning from lunch to dinner on a Friday afternoon, all while planning for a demanding catering job the same evening. Wild pork simmers on a grill tucked into an all-brick fireplace, glowing with coals. Some rather elegant-looking guinea fowl schnitzel sits ready for the same treatment. The supper club and butcher shop is a picture of organic fare. Its lighting, décor, and even the energy of the place seems evolved. As if Griffiths created it all at once, born out of the idea that food can only be truly rich if the space where it’s created has a sense of purpose. “Everything here is done with care,” he said. “It all comes from our region, it all basically comes in from Texas. We live in a diverse state that touches the ocean to the south for seafood and stretches to the hill country, which has some damn good wine.” Dai Due has gained fame as of late, both for Griffiths and his everyman approach to fine cuisine as well as its wild plates. One lunchtime tour of his living, breathing handiwork, and it’s not hard to see why. The Beginning It all started with a crappie. Griffiths grew up in Denton, a mid-sized college town north of Dallas. It was a decidedly typical upbringing, he said, with a mix of “redneck and hippie.” “My dad and I fished very often,” Griffiths says. “We didn’t have a boat, so it was a lot of white bass and crappie and catfish ….” Just as his life was genuinely Texas early on, so too was the way he fell in love with food. “My friend, Blake, and I fished Lake Ray Roberts one morning,” Griffiths says. “We couldn’t have been very old — just old enough for him to drive. Anyway, I caught the only fish that day. It was a big female crappie, and I caught it on a red and white jig. I still remember that. Brought it home and fried bacon, cooked potatoes in the bacon fat, and rolled the fillets in cornmeal and fried those, too. This is still something I will make.” His love for food was born with that side of ketchup. “We ate very, very simply,” he says. “Biscuits and gravy, pot pies, fried chicken, catfish. I loved to eat. I’d save up money and ride my bike and eat lunch at a restaurant by myself when I was like 10.” As soon as he was old enough, Griffiths started working in restaurants doing the grunt work, a gritty and fundamental way to learn food. He didn’t take the traditional route to learn his craft. There would be no college, no culinary school, no fancy résumé-building training. It was raw experience that built Griffiths, working with great people at great places. Given his upbringing, it’s easy to question how he ended up a creative leader in Austin’s trendy and well-established culinary scene. It seems strange to Griffiths that field-to-table or farm-to-table is an idea that’s elevated (if not overused) in today’s food culture. Before modern processed food, there was no other way to make a meal. You ate what the land and people around you provided — it goes to the history of our culture. 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