Elise Wiggins, the chef/owner of Cattivella, knows what it's like to be in front of an audience. Her Italian eatery in the Stapleton neighborhood centers on an open kitchen, where the chef and her culinary team butcher meat, make pasta, cook pizzas and grill steaks on a wood-fired grill, all in front of guests eagerly awaiting every bite. Wiggins also uses the exhibition kitchen as a stage for cooking classes and other events where she's front and center for people looking for professional guidance.
But there's a big difference between cooking live and revealing your personality in front of a television camera for thousands of people. Wiggins took the plunge, though, and the result is Roots to Ranches, a Rocky Mountain PBS series that will give viewers a look into foraging, hunting and regenerative farming and ranching, through Wiggins's history and career as a professional cook.
"I've had a couple of people reach out over the years to do a show, but nothing has ever materialized," Wiggins explains. "But my wife knows Amanda Mountain [CEO of Rocky Mountain Public Media], so we started talking, and she asked me what kind of show I would want to do."
The result is part educational cooking show and part cultural plunge into Louisiana, where Wiggins grew up, as well as locations in Georgia, Alabama and Texas. "I wanted to break the rules — to do a different format," the chef says. "The focus is on where food comes from and thinking beyond just grabbing food at the grocery store. For the first episode, I'm educating people on hunting. You learn how to respect and not waste [meat] after you've been through that process.
"I'm a teacher at heart," she adds. "The show is about an education, and taking people on a journey to get it."
Squirrel is on the table for episode one of Roots to Ranches. Wiggins grew up hunting with her dad in rural Louisiana, and squirrel was a favorite source of protein. The show will take viewers to the chef's home town and show how squirrel is hunted and prepared; Wiggins says it's a delicious animal that should be eaten more often.
Roots to Ranches isn't all about meat, though. Foraging will also be highlighted, and Wiggins mentions Southern food sources like pokeweed. "It can be poisonous, but it's absolutely delicious if it's prepared properly," she notes. "There are entire festivals in the South dedicated to poke."
The first season of Roots to Ranches comprises six episodes, the first of which will air in January 2020, and Wiggins says that a thirteen-episode second season is already locked in. But if you want to get a preview of the show, episode one will be airing at the Sie FilmCenter, 2510 East Colfax Avenue, at 7 p.m. Friday, November 15. Tickets are available on eventbrite.com for $25 for the screening and a Q&A with Wiggins, or for $50, which includes a 6:30 p.m. prosecco toast and squirrel tasting, with three different bites prepared by the chef.
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