Step through the doors of Cherrywood restaurant-slash-butcher shop Dai Due and you’ll gradually start to notice a wild-hog theme. The meat store sells wild boar chorizo, wild boar sausages, and klobasniky stuffed with wild boar Mexican longanisa sausage. The restaurant’s signature menu item — wild boar confit — is composed of tender boar in a ginger bone broth and topped with sliced fruit. The retail shelves are full of wild hog lard-based soaps and skincare products, and shirts boast the inherent philosophy of the restaurant: “Eat a Hog, Save the World.”
Similarly, take note of the restaurant’s logo, a wild hog leaping into the air. The image, while fun, reiterates two distinct problems in Texas: Hogs are running wild, yes, but there’s the other problem, too: Your average person has misconceptions about eating wild game. Dai Due owner and chef Jesse Griffiths's longtime mission is to convince people to eat wild hogs. Enter The Hog Book, a definitive guide to hunting, preparing, and cooking the wild animal, which he is self-publishing this August.
Everything Griffiths does is designed to get people to open up their hearts to game meat. The restaurant is his direct response to people who might say, “Oh no, I don’t do game meat,” or complain about the texture. He walks customers through game meat dishes and gets them to come to the same conclusion: Game meat is not only safe to eat, but it’s also delicious and sustainable.
“Much, if not all, of the process is oriented to ‘normalizing’ game,” says Griffiths. “I hate to ever think of these animals as novelties or something we are serving as shock value. They represent the true resource of our region and also our heritage, and should be a routine part of our diet.”
Over the last decade, Griffiths has helped Austin achieve its status as a food destination. A hyper-locavore, he uses preservation and fermentation techniques to squeeze the most out of Texas’s unique and somewhat fleeting produce, all to create some of the most flavorful dishes in the country. He is a champion of Texas, in the business of evoking deeply resonant feelings about the state through sustainable, thoughtful, and delicious cooking.
All of the restaurant’s meat is sourced from Texas, and Griffiths knows how to hunt himself. To say he is a skilled hunter and butcher is an understatement; the man has an overabundance of knowledge that he readily shares. So much so that he founded the New School of Traditional Cookery, a series of classes centered on ethical hunting, fishing, and butchery designed for both beginners and experts alike, something that he describes as his “dream job.” He also authored A Chef’s Guide to Preparing and Cooking Wild Game and Fish in 2012.
Wild hogs have been in Texas for hundreds of years, but just recently the population exploded. The state, in all of its rural glory, has plenty of open lands for grazing as well as hiding places, making the hogs extremely elusive, and near the top of the Texas food chain.
“They’re fucking smart animals,” Griffiths explains. If the pigs get the sense that people are around — hunters, say — they will shift into nocturnal activity. “They literally stay out of the general public’s view so easily. Their breeding abilities are exponential. They can be bred very young, and, if conditions are right, they’ll generate litters of up to 12 piglets a couple of times a year. Humans are the only predator of any consistent efficacy.”
The Hog Book is the culmination of years of focus for Griffiths, who, along with his go-to photographer Jody Horton and producer Blair Richardson, aims to publish something quite special. Horton captured not only the awe-inspiring Texas landscape, but also the breathtaking process of hunting, fishing, and cooking.
“Being able to capture food images and technical images like gutting a hog is a real talent,” Griffiths says of Horton. “You need to convey both specifics and beauty. He makes it easy for me to tell the story and show the necessary steps for very complicated processes.”
The photography and the words work together to achieve the same goal: Whether it’s hunting, cooking, or simply eating hog meat, The Hog Book seeks to educate and inspire Texans. And a good starting point is addressing misinformation regarding wild hogs as a food source.
“One person tells the next you can’t eat them if they’re over 120 pounds,” says Griffiths. “Then they’ll tell someone it’s over 130 pounds and you can only eat them in November. The commonality is that every one of these statements begins with, ‘Well, I’ve heard that...’ While there is some basis to it, it’s not exactly like that. While the big boars might not be the best-tasting hogs in the sounder [herd of wild swine], they can sometimes be great. Just try them out. I call that ‘boar-curious.’ Another common thread is that, when asked, they personally have never tried to eat it. A laughable misconception is that you literally can’t eat any wild hog.”
To Griffiths, the more people become educated about eating wild hogs, the more people can talk about game meat as a solution to the real problems of damaging ecosystems. He, as a steward of not just the Texas land but its people, is optimistic that it can be turned around.
“If we can collectively take interest in this very unique problem,” Griffiths says, “we can get more brainpower on finding solutions to more issues beyond a destructive and invasive species that happens to be pretty damn good to eat.” He asks the question, “Who else can we feed?” and lists other populations and groups such as people without housing, school children, and incarcerated people.
“Optimally, someone picks up this book and is inspired to become a hunter,” Griffiths continues. Then they’re excited to eat the hogs while also controlling the population. “They then are taking less from a horribly corrupted and broken food system and doing something that is a double-net positive. A pound of feral hog meat is also one less pound of factory-farmed beef that has to be raised, fed, and slaughtered.”
Griffiths aims to bring awareness to a unique problem that has a delicious solution. The wild hog represents a way to strengthen the community and connect to Texans’ heritage. The book, his restaurant, and his school are all efforts to get people involved. It’s Griffiths’s simple and powerful ethos: Eating a hog can save the world.