Among a line of white chef coats and toques, it is easy to spot Tyler Viars in his woodland camo. Tyler is one of the 22 contestants on the fifth season of the popular show MasterChef hosted by popular UK culinary expert and personality Gordon Ramsay. This hunter-turned-chef may not be a household name yet, but Tyler, who has also worked a field producer and videographer for the Outdoor Channel, plans on changing that. Competing for the the title of MasterChef isn’t the extent of the 27-year-old Tyler’s ambitions, and he has much bigger plans in mind.
“Food is emotional. Hunting is emotional,” Tyler told me.
As a self-professed food junkie and avid hunter, Tyler has great plans to merge the two loves of his life together. There is a great connection between hunters and their food, he said, and what better industry to embrace the harvesting of wild game than the food industry? After all, game meat is healthier and more nutritious than farm-raised livestock.
“The closer you are to your food, the more personal of a relationship you have to your food, the better it tastes,” Tyler opined. “Hunters take a lot of flak, but the difference between the meat I have and the meat a non-hunter has is that I know exactly where it comes from. It didn’t come from a supermarket—I’ve seen its face. It’s extremely emotional.”
Tyler is not the first to take notice of the connection between the food and hunting industries. Harvesting your own meat is fast becoming a cornerstone of the foodie movement. A national opinion survey by Responsive Management showed that 35 percent of hunters list meat as their greatest motivator for hitting the field. The second most popular reason for hunting was for recreation, while hunting for trophies only came in as the top motivator for one percent of hunters. The drive for healthy—and affordable—meat is also enticing more women hunters. Over 55 percent of women surveyed said they hunted to put food on the table.
“When I hunt, I try to use the entire animal as best I can,” Tyler shared about his own experiences. “I mean, that animal died for me. I believe in utilizing everything and wasting nothing. There are a lot of delicious parts that somebody else might be appalled by but for another person, it’s normal. When I was filming in Kenya, I watched a guy butcher a goat with a hatchet and in almost no time at all it was on my dinner plate. To some people that may seem barbaric, but it was delicious.”
Traveling around the world and watching hunters in other countries interact with their harvests gave Tyler a more worldly view of what it means to eat healthy. Tyler says it also gave him an appreciation for fresh food, especially when it comes to meat. He related to me a story of how he shot a buck during bow season last November and cooked it right in the camp. The realization that the animal had given him its life just hours before, and is now nourishing him, was cathartic.
Tyler, who has been hunting all his life, said that he now spends periods of time with nothing but what he harvested in his freezer.
“Point blank: I eat what I hunt. I always found it kind of funny that we’d go to a camp in Texas or Montana and after a successful hunt we’d have beef stakes on the grill or barbecue chicken. Then it was like ding-ding-ding! Why don’t we eat what we have in the back of our truck?”
The Ohio chef believes that hunting for meat is a great way to entice new hunters into the fold, as well as eliminating the age-old misconception that hunters kill purely for prestige.
“It shows anti-hunters that we aren’t what they see as murderers,” Tyler explained. “We eat what we kill. A lot of people view us as uneducated, redneck types who shoot anything they see. That’s not the case at all. A whitetail deer for me is something I have the utmost respect for. It dodges predators all its life and for me to be able to defeat that, it’s emotional. I want to show that.”
So what exactly does the future hold for Tyler Viars? He says he doesn’t want to reveal too much, but he dropped a few hints in our conversation. Tyler coyly explained that he wants to be the vehicle for a “merger” between the hunting and food industries. His next project will involve a bit of travel, a bit of adventure, and a lot of good food.
“I’ve lived in a lot of places, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, Ohio, and everywhere food’s different. That’s what it makes it all great, love for food is something we all share,” he concluded. “Everybody on the planet has to eat.”
You can watch Tyler’s intro in Fox’s MasterChef below:
Images courtesy Tyler Viars