Donna Reynolds doesn’t fish and doesn’t hunt, but give her some fresh, cleaned game and she will fire up your palate.
You would think the woman who for the past 14 years has hosted the Simple Cooking segment of the Carolina Outdoor Journal (WUNC-TV 5 p.m. Saturdays and 11 a.m. Sundays) would have some exposure to outdoor pursuits. Reynolds, 47, says she has never been hunting but has fished, though she does not remember where or when.
Try some of her simple fish and game recipes and you will be glad Reynolds is in the kitchen rather than afield. How about a fish Ruben, venison breakfast biscuit, soft shell crab BLT, oyster puppies, duck pizza, or layered cornbread and duck salad.
“I don’t hunt it or fish it – just cook it,” she said. “I’ve taught myself and I don’t cook usually from recipes. I’ve learned on the job by experimenting.”
Reynolds’mother early on exposed her son and daughter to the kitchen.
“I grew up eating meat and potatoes – basic food, nothing extravagant. She always allowed us to help in the kitchen,” Reynolds said. “We always made a mess but she didn’t mind. I’m still a messy cook to this day. My brother turned out to be a great cook, and he does all the cooking at his house.”
Reynolds got serious about the cooking business during her second semester at Meredith in 1985. She took a home economics course and fell in love with it.
“That is where I really discovered you could make a living cooking or in the food business,” she said. “I was exposed to different careers – sales, marketing, teaching …”
During her junior year, Reynolds decided she needed on-the-job experience. She landed an internship with a Charlotte TV show and the experience catapulted her to success in the food industry.
“It was an hour magazine show, ‘Top of the Day’ hosted by Barbara McKay, that included a daily cooking segment,” Reynolds said. “Barbara did not take interns but she took a chance on me. … It was the best opportunity I could have hoped for. I got the TV bug that summer. From then on it led me down my career path.”
While at Meredith, Reynolds worked in the home economics department, demonstrated espresso machines in a mall, helped a caterer and interned at the N.C. Egg Association. She landed a full-time job with the egg group that lasted six years. She then became a bridal spokesperson for an appliance manufacturer.
“I traveled the U.S., speaking at bridal events. It was a fabulous time, so fun and exciting,” she said. “I picked up additional clients. I worked with Reynolds Aluminum, traveling with their sales team, preparing recipes for sampling during their meetings with grocery store corporate buyers. … I demonstrated grills in N.C. and S.C. for a client …”
Those experiences led a former employer to recommend Reynolds to House Autry Mills, which sponsored the cooking segment on the Outdoor Journal. For the next 14 years, while raising two children and holding down a job with a cooking consulting firm, Reynolds traveled to Chapel Hill weekly from her home in Mecklenburg County to film the journal segments.
“I love to cook the game, to reap what people sew for me,” she said. “I love to cook for others, people who will appreciate it – it makes me happy.”
So what does she cook at home? Lots of fish on the grill and unique foods such as ostrich.
“I like to cook different things in my house like ostrich. I like to grill mine; it’s like a duck breast when I slice it, dark meat. It’s amazing and tastes like a steak,” she said. “I like to cook with fresh, colorful ingredients. When I cook for my family and friends, I seldom use a recipe. I just see what I have in my fridge and pantry and create dinner.”
Reynolds son, 15, and daughter,14, are following in their mother’s footsteps in the kitchen.
“Mary Grace likes to bake and is an expert at mashed potatoes,” she said. “Ballard likes to try spicy sauces and test them out on different meats.”
Reynolds, who says she is content with her career, has no plans to write a cookbook.
“I feel like there are enough cookbooks in the world,” she said.
She has plenty of advice when asked for tips for amateur cooks.
“Experiment and see what works for you. Cook in a simple manner with fresh ingredients. Have fun with it and enjoy it. There’s no right or wrong way to cook.”