Chef Elise Wiggins takes viewers on an epic trek across the south in the first season of Roots to Ranches, starting in her hometown of West Monroe, LA. Her culinary roots began at the age of 6 when her father taught her how to hunt, butcher and cook wild game. He also taught her you don’t hunt to kill but to eat, to honor the animals life by wasting nothing and it’s better to eat wild game since it can live a full life in nature, free of cages, hormones or antibiotics. On the trip, she is joined by her Sous Chef Zuri Resendiaz to rekindle these childhood lessons, as well as pass them on to him. After the hunt, Chef Wiggins teaches viewers how to make squirrel rillettes, pinchos and boudin balls. All three dishes are inspired by Louisiana’s French and Spanish heritage.
In Birmingham, Alabama Chef Wiggins’ teams up with local forager, Tim Pfitzer, who takes her on a foray to learn about edible seasonal springtime plants deep in the backwoods of Birmingham and surrounding urban areas. Together they procure exotic, indigenous ingredients such as Reindeer Lichen, juniper berry, Virginia pine needles, chanterelles and ferrell garlic from old homesteads. Their walk through the woods ends with Chef Wiggins showing viewers the various ways lichen can be applied to simple and sophisticated dishes, while also pairing well with the other plants they forged.
The Southern adventures continue in New Iberia, Louisiana where Chef Wiggins’ and her cousin Jason Legnon take an airboat deep into the bayou for Cajun Style froggin, another way of saying hunting frogs by hand. Lessons from her father about froggin remain today: “always watch out for red eyes.” Viewers quickly learn the dangers of hand-hunting frogs since the “red eyes” can either be an alligator or “Mr. No Shoulder’s,” what her father called water moccasins.This exciting episode is highlighted by the creative dish Elise prepares for the Legnon family. Frog Gyoza. Learn how frog is the perfect vessel that pairs perfectly many amazing Asian ingredients.
The Lone Star State, Chef Wiggins’ learns from Bob Richie, a local master naturalist, forager and historian, about Great Trinity Forest plants historically used by area Native American tribes for medicine and to eat. From the forgotten Polk Weed that was once prized in the south to Toothache Tree Berries and other lesser known edible wild plants, Bob teaches Chef Wiggins about the power of medicine in plants, the endless grocery store in the wild and how to properly harvest and cook from it.Elise shows how to safely cook Polk Weed a forgotten plant that is prized in the south and has festivals still to this day celebrating its deliciousness and health benefits. She also whipps up a refreshing beverage with berries from the Toothache tree to compliment the whole meal.
Back in her home state, Chef Wiggins’ rolls up her sleeves with family friend Wes Hilborn to learn about regenerative crawfish farming. Floating through football sized rice ponds, Wes shows Elise how to hand-harvest crawfish from pots that function as traps. The harvested crawfish are then taken to a Grade A processing facility where they learn about the fine art of processing crawfish one at a time by hand. The shells from the harvested crawfish are then ground up and used by farmers to fertilize topsoil. Elise then takes Wes’s crawfish and spins it into a whole new dish that was inspired from her travels to Mexico and Morocco…….. “oeuf feuille de brick” ……Brick Egg. This amazing dish is created with a combination of the rich heady spices of french/Moroccan cooking and the spicy acidic zing of mexican salsa! It’s a heady and delicious combination!
In the last episode, Chef Wiggins’ visits White Oaks Pasture with founder and farmer Will Harris and his family in Blufton, Georgia. This regenerative farm is one of a few across the nation that is net-zero or carbon negative, where carbon is pulled into the earth instead of out into the atmosphere. Even more inspiring is their approach to raising animals – allowing cows, chickens and other livestock to co-mingle as they would naturally in nature with no pinning or de-horning. This back-to-basic farming to raising animals in turn fertilizes the soil, making it nutrient rich for farming. Elise’s tour reminded her of her travels through Piedmonte, Italy where they use all local ingredients and what’s in season. She gathered various animal meats, vegetables and herbs all from the farm to create an amazing Roasted/ Smoked Meat Ravioli with demi sauce.