Angelo Georgalli is taking me rabbit hunting.
We’re climbing the Isthmus Peak track, a gravel track surrounded by tussocks leading up to the 4,544-foot saddle between Lakes Wanaka and Hawea in the Southern Alps of New Zealand’s South Island. Georgalli carries his compound bow in a light grip in his left hand, moving slowly and silently up the frost-covered track. On a ridgeline he freezes, scanning the area.
“Do you see anything?” I whisper.
“Yes—pure beauty,” he smiles.
Georgalli is the star of The Game Chef, a combination hunting and cooking show—set to air internationally on the National Geographic Channel—on which he bowhunts or fly-fishes for game, then promptly turns his quarry into an exquisite meal over an open fire. During one episode, he caught a trout and cooked it three ways: teriyaki-glazed with ginger, coriander, and garlic; baked stuffed with kiwifruit and coated with a honey glaze; and pan-fried with watercress and sour cream.
This isn't your normal hunting fare: This is an art form.
A Seed Is Planted
Georgalli’s real name is Arcangelo, an impressive moniker he got from his Italian grandfather. His mother is from Naples, his father from Cyprus. “Dad grew up on a self-sufficient farm, ploughing fields behind oxen,” he says. “And Mom is Italian. They both cooked, they’re both passionate about cooking, and they both appreciated each other’s cooking. If it wasn’t for their cooking, they wouldn’t be who they are.”
Born in Scotland, Georgalli is the youngest of three brothers, one of whom is now a Dean Martin impersonator in Cyprus. His family moved around a lot when he was young. “The Turkish Army asked us to leave our family farm in Cyprus,” he explains with a wry smile. “We hung around in a British Army camp for a while, hoping to return, and eventually moved to Italy, and then to London.”
Forced to get a job to support the family, Georgalli’s father became the head chef at Middlesex Hospital at the age of 60. “We lived in a not-so-nice neighborhood in London," Georgalli says. "We were poor, but my parents were strong and made sure we were well looked after. They kept us in line so we didn’t fall in with the local hooligans. Behind our house was a park with a river running through it. I always gravitated there. I don’t think I’d be where I am now if I hadn’t had that park.”
Along with that small square of nature in a teeming city, Georgalli credits his father with having a massive impact on his future. “Our house had a big back garden, and Dad divided it into two," he says. "In one section he planted a massive veggie patch. In the other, he bred rabbits and chickens. It planted a seed in me. But it wasn’t always easy: I remember the first time he killed a rabbit in front of me. I was five or six years old, and I was devastated. But he sat me down and explained what he was doing. ‘I’m feeding the family with food that we can grow ourselves,’ he told me. Growing up eating rabbit is part of his heritage, and I think it kept him happy; it created a link to his past.” (See "Urban Farming: Growing Food in a Sprawling City")
It also set Georgalli on course for his future. Dyslexia drove him to leave school at the age of 14, when he got a job at the “best Greek delicatessen in London,” he smiles, remembering. “I worked there for three years and worked hard, and it gave me a foundation for food. I learned the different spices and herbs, different grains, cheeses—I was really involved with mixing and crushing. Most of our customers were Greek Cypriotes.”
At 18, Georgalli moved into the London scene, working as a busboy and waiter at establishments like Rules, the oldest restaurant in London (1798). “That place had character—Charles Dickens used to eat there!” he says. “The menu was very gamey. They served pigeon, pheasant, boar—and that really interested me, given how I grew up.”
When he was 21, Angelo met his future wife, a New Zealander, and they spent time traveling through Egypt, Mexico, and Thailand before eventually settling in Auckland and later moving to Wanaka on New Zealand’s South Island.
Know What You Eat
“This is an incredibly spiritual place,” Georgalli says, looking around us. “It’s so easy to get into the wild here. It doesn’t take long. And my kids are growing up water-skiing, doing snow sports, hunting, fishing. There’s something all year round, and I love that. It’s a great way to grow up.”
It was Wanaka’s wild landscape that gave Georgalli the idea for The Game Chef. The show takes a back-to-basics approach, sourcing food locally and seasonally, using organic produce, and cooking it in a way that's nutritious, elegant, and delicious, all the while showcasing New Zealand’s extraordinary environment. (See "Want the Ultimate in Local Food? Hunt It")
“I want to do the stuff I cook at home, catch it the way I do and cook it up the way I normally would,” he says. “For me, it’s down to flavor, and I cook the way my dad used to: over an open fire using timber rather than gas. Everything tastes better.”
Georgalli says his biggest message is to know what you eat. “I know that’s hard for a lot of people, but it’s all about mindfulness: Take what you need rather than hunting trophies. Be mindful of what you’re putting into your body. Try to grow your own. Source organic when you can. I know it’s expensive, but cut down portion sizes: You’ll save money and lose a little weight. Cut out fillers. The more food you make yourself, the healthier it is, the more you’ll get back into balance with nature.”
At the end of our six-hour hunting expedition, we haven’t seen a single rabbit, but that doesn’t bother either of us. As we pause on a grassy knoll, drinking water and glassing the opposite gully through binoculars, we spy red and fallow deer, wild goats, and even an elusive chamois.
“Isn’t that the way it always is?” Georgalli laughs. “Once you sit still, you see everything.”
Angelo Georgalli’s Wild Rabbit Risotto
During an exhibition at the 2016 New Zealand Mountain Film Festival, Georgalli cooked risotto for about 40 people.
“Mom always made risotto,” he says. “It’s a big family favorite.”
In his recipes, Georgalli tends not to use precise measurements, preferring intuition over strict adherence to measurement. "I'm one of those people who can open up a cupboard and make a meal from whatever's there."
So here's how to cook risotto for 40 after you've hunted down a rabbit. Experiment and adjust as needed.
Heat onions, two garlic cloves, three tablespoons olive oil, and two tablespoons herb butter (store-bought butter mixed with rosemary, chives, parsley, thyme, and garlic in a Mason jar) in a big French pot on an open fire.
Add the risotto. It’s important to keep it moist—don’t let it dry out. Add half a bottle of white wine, salt, and pepper.
Throw in some brown sliced mushrooms.
Add some stock. (Georgalli used rabbit stock made from the rabbit.)
Add thyme leaves and parsley, a few carrots, and keep adding stock to the mixture so it doesn’t dry out.
When the risotto reaches al dente (not too soft), remove it from the heat.
Heat a pan over the fire. “You want the pan to be hot—you don’t want to stew the meat,” Georgalli says.
Cook the rabbit in a pan over the heat. Add some bacon, oil, rosemary, and thyme.
Cook the rabbit right through, “like chicken,” Georgalli says. “A lot of people have gone off salt, but I haven’t. Add more; it definitely releases more flavor.”
When the rabbit is cooked, remove it and add it to the risotto. Add cream and shaved parmesan, mix, and serve.
Carrie Miller is a New Zealand-based writer and former staff member at National Geographic Traveler.