How to Cook Pūkeko: The Wild Life of Celebrity Chef Angelo Georgalli

Chefs may be famous for their fiery tempers, but Angelo Georgalli takes my revelation well.

The celebrity chef’s latest book is all about cooking wild animals, and he just pulled a promotional straw: his interviewer is a vegetarian.

For a second, there’s silence on the phone line before he laughs and promises there’s still something in the book for everyone, even me.

“Just swap fish and game for eggplant.”

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Black swans are delicious to eat, says Angelo Georgalli.

PROVIDED

Black swans are delicious to eat, says Angelo Georgalli.

Georgalli’s third book, The Fish + Game Cookbook, fits the mark of the man known as “The Game Chef” perfectly. The recipes are indeed crazy and this meat-averse questioner has a pressing question: “Is a black swan like a huge long-necked chicken once it’s plucked?”

Pretty much, said the chief, and of all the birds he encountered, the swan surprised him the most. It was tasty, easy to cook, and had enough meat to feed at least eight people.

“The breasts are huge, the size of a dinner plate. You can go far on a black swan, if I was dropped off on a desert island and had to choose a bird to take with me, that would be it.

Now a convert himself, Georgalli says people should try cooking a swan themselves, but warns them to stick to pest species.

“The White Swans are protected by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, which could be inconvenient.”

Angelo Georgalli: “I don't stay in the same place and I do the same thing for a long time”.

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Angelo Georgalli: “I don’t stay in the same place and I do the same thing for a long time”.

The swan may have surprised the chef the most, but another strange appearance in the book is that of the pūkeko – described as “a wonderful bird to eat”.

Georgalli admits the idea of ​​cooking hens and swamp swans might be unusual for some New Zealanders, but says it makes sense in every way.

When it comes to the environment, Aotearoa’s lack of predatory animals has seen certain bird species thrive out of control, and hunting them restores some balance. Financially, the high cost of buying meat is now out of reach for many, and health-wise wild game is simply better.

“What you tend to eat when eating wild has not been changed. There were no antibiotics, it’s mostly organic and even the stress to the animal is minimal.

Georgalli says that with our skyrocketing cost of living, the movement towards self-sufficiency is massive, and since that’s how his own family survived, he’s keen to help.

One of four children, Georgalli was born in Glasgow before his family moved back to his chief father’s home country of Cyprus. The family spent a few happy years on their coastal farm until Turkey invaded the country and they had to flee, losing everything in the process.

“We were refugees from this war and we boarded a container ship that went to Lebanon. My parents took a suitcase and had four children under 7 years old. I have no recollection of it, but my brother Michael says it was quite difficult.

Pūkeko is a

Dominico Zapata / Stuff

Pūkeko is a “wonderful bird to eat”.

The family spent around six months in a British Army camp before moving to Italy, although Georgalli’s father struggled to find work. Moving to London, they settle in a council house in Tottenham where they live in poverty.

“It was a really dangerous area, but my parents kept us safe.”

It was in this house that a young Georgalli saw with his own eyes how to make a living from the land, from any land. His father transformed the long, narrow yard into a miniature farm, dividing it into two sections to grow vegetables and animals to feed the family.

Georgalli thought it was great fun but remembers the day he realized the giant white rabbits he adored weren’t really pets.

“One of them escaped into the neighbor’s vegetable garden and my father went with his cane and hit him on the head.

“I didn’t know he used them as meat because he didn’t want to hurt me. When the bunnies disappeared he would say he had sold one or two, I would ask what was for dinner and he would say “chicken”.

Georgalli says eating wild makes sense on every level.

Provided

Georgalli says eating wild makes sense on every level.

Georgalli dropped out of school at 14 and spent his teenage years working in his cousin’s Greek deli, then as a waiter and waiter in London restaurants. Meeting and then marrying a New Zealander, he ended up in Aotearoa where he owned nine restaurants and cafes and starred in The game boss TV shows.

These are the books of which he is particularly proud. It was because of his dyslexia – and the inability of teachers to help him – that he dropped out all those years ago, so it’s a triumph to have three books under his belt. He says this one is very special, having been written in collaboration with Fish & Game and featuring stunning photos of wildlife and landscapes.

As for what’s next? Who knows. On Monday morning, Georgalli was tidying up his Kingston home and heading into an uncertain future, something he says he shares with everyone in the hospitality game.

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Cambridge Community Gardens were the target of hungry birds in early 2019.

“Covid ruined everything. I owned a lodge in Cardrona and Covid ruined it. I opened another business and Covid ruined it. I am now moving to Dunedin while my partner is doing a degree.

“I hope an opportunity will arise for me there, I have a food trailer.”

He has projects involving seaweed, certainly archery, and wants to get back into horse riding.

“I don’t stay in one place and I do the same thing for a long time. Maybe it’s the way I was raised: being displaced and being in a vulnerable situation as a child.

One thing is certain though, although the house does not have a section, there will still be some form of vegetable cultivation. This is where it all started after all.

“I will make herbs and a large garden of potted wine barrels. And more foraging.

The fish + game cookbook is available from beatnikpublishing.com and bookstores.

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