Say Hello to Inaugural Wild Food League Winner Lenny Valerio

Say Hello to Inaugural Wild Food League Winner Lenny Valerio

I'm excited to announce that Lenny Valerio is the winner of the inaugural Wild Food League!

We had a lot of great participants in the league regularly posting some amazing wild game meals throughout this past year. Lenny, however, rose above the rest with his chef-level recipes of wild game and foraged ingredients, active participation in the league, and his volunteer efforts with the Texas Wildlife Association and Stewards of the Wild.

Lenny takes home an incredible prize package valued at over $2,000 from our generous sponsors: Finex Cast Iron, Steelport Knife Co., Cru Ovens, Howl For Wildlife, Cutting Edge Firewood, My Medic, ThermoWorks, Forloh, GoHunt, Aquatabs, and HarvestGuard.

I caught up with Lenny to have a chat. Keep reading for the text interview or scroll to the bottom of the page for links to the audio/video podcast version of this conversation.

Give us a quick intro on who you are, where you’re from, and a brief overview of your hunting background.

I am Leonard Valerio aka Lenny originally from Los Angeles California and I am a fairly new hunter as my first hunt ever was a dove hunt in Albany Texas in 2022. Through the Texas Wildlife Association, Stewards of the Wild, and Hunters of Color organizations I have been able to make rapid progress as a hunter and work on a path to become a mentor to new hunters  

Everyone in the league was very impressed with the dishes you posted. Are you a professional chef? Where does your passion for food and cooking come from?

I’ve had an interest in cooking since I was young. In fact, I was the child often making my parents breakfast in bed for Mother's Day, Father’s Day or their birthdays. I kind of fell away from it a bit once I hit high school and college but hunting has renewed that passion to push my culinary skills.

Despite what some of my meals look like, I am no professional chef and do not have any formal culinary training. While I have worked in some pizza parlors in college I was just a delivery driver and did not touch the pizzas. 

I do however have some very talented friends that have real world kitchen and pastry experience and I owe most of my knowledge to them. Through the Texas Wildlife Association I have been blessed to cross paths with Jessie Griffiths, Danielle Prewitt, Kris Abagail, and Kristin Parma. While these professional cooks, butchers and restaurateurs have all aided me on my journey I owe the most to my dear friend Faith Davis. Also a member of the Texas Wildlife Association and Stewards of the Wild, Faith has worked in some top notch kitchens here in Houston and it is evident in everything she makes. 

Many of the recipes you posted this past year featured meat from animals which are not common or even found in most parts of the country.  How do you have access to some of these types of wild game?

I was selected to participate in a mentored hunt through Stewards of the Wild and the Texas Wildlife Association in October 2022. Matthew Hughes, the program director for the Adult Learn to Hunt Program rewarded my enthusiasm and passion with the opportunity to volunteer on additional hunts and earn some spots on exotic hunts. Through TWA I learned of Hunters of Color and the Houston Safari Club and  all these organizations have played a vital role in helping me become the hunter I am today with opportunities to hunt species not available to everyone as well as through expand my knowledge through happy hours and hunting skill workshops

What were some of the dishes you were most proud of over this past year? 

I will always be most proud of the wild game pizzas I make and I find it very rewarding to share them with fellow hunters.

Outside of pizza I was very proud of the aoudad maple sausage. Aoudad have a reputation for not being the best tasting animal and I’ve heard of hunters harvesting them only for the trophy. I wanted to show hunters that aoudad is delicious. In fact I cooked it on an elk hunt and was able to change minds of several professional guides.


For someone just getting started looking to get success on their belt, what is one simple wild game meal you would suggest to get started with?

I wouldn’t say it’s a meal perhaps but more of a strategy. I would recommend grinding a large portion of your harvest and freezing it in 1 pound increments. Treat that ground wild game  as a substitute for ground pork or ground beef and you will be  surprised at what you can accomplish with a simple substitution.

What advice would you give to folks who are less experienced with wild game cooking?

You don’t have to rely on hunting specific cookbooks and buy all the hunting cookbooks for recipes. Many of my favorite things I made this year were taken from cookbooks that had nothing to do with hunting and I just substituted for wild game as needed. 

What are some of your favorite kitchen/cooking tools/gear that you use most often in your wild game cooking?

I can’t stress enough that everyone needs a kitchen scale. Get away from cups and tablespoons if possible. The best restaurants in the world measure everything in grams and once I embraced that, my cooking became more consistent, and I have had significant improvements.

I also love my kitchen aid mixer. It’s been used to make numerous doughs, fillings and sauces. One pro tip is visiting the refurbished section of kitchen aids website. With a little searching you can score a stand mixer with a warranty for less than 50 percent of the retail 

What’s one cooking technique that’s leveled up your game the most?

Sous vide has become a game changer for us home cooks. Sous vide machines are now at an affordable level and utilizing them to cook tough piece of meats for long hours has really made some of my dishes stand out.

What’s been one of your favorite hunts so far?

My favorite hunt was one where I was not the hunter. I was a mentor and a pizza cook on a hunt in December 2023 for the Adult Learn to Hunt Program. I was able to help a new hunter harvest their first game animal at the same ranch I harvested my first animal exactly one year prior to the day

What is a dream hunt you’re hoping to make a reality in the future?

I’ve dreamed of doing a bear hunt, but for the longest time I struggled with internal dialogue and internal fights as bears have always been my favorite animals. It wasn’t until participating in this league and interacting in this community that I decided I am ready to pursue a bear in the backcountry.

I only hope I can pay that animal homage by pushing my culinary skills





Want to win the next Wild Food League title?

Join HuntLeague today and sign up for the 2024/2025 Wild Food League. This year, we'll have even more prizes and winners throughout the duration of the league before crowning the league champion at the end of May 2025. You won't want to miss it!

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Here are some products we used or would recommend for this type of adventure!