Kristi Martel: The Sporting Life And A Passion For Cooking Game

by Kate Ahnstrom

By Kate Ahnstrom

If it flies, it dies! If it’s brown, it’s down! If it swims, yeah… we’ll eat that too!

   All of us cherish those memory-maker moments in the woods and on the water. Our social media feeds are full of those moments which means our freezers are full of those harvests. I love a dove popper just as much as the next guy, but if this is your only recipe for doves, you’re missing out. Same with the “go-to” venison backstrap sliced, breaded and fried. Seeking a more dynamic twist to the wild game options in my own freezer, I turned to the culinary creativity of Kristi Martel, owner of Two Rivers Kitchen Cuisine.

  Kristi and I have a bit of history. The first time I met her was at a women’s upland hunt for the Virginia chapter of ADC (American Daughters of Conservation). She was the president of the chapter at the time and enlisted my wing-shooting school to craft a full day of upland education for the ladies. She is also the state coordinator for Prois. Ladies, you HAVE to have their gear in your closet. 

  Kristi and I hit it off immediately! Platinum blonde and standing at all of 5’2”, Kristi is a natural leader and entrepreneur. I love working with women that are passionately dedicated to the outdoors and to building bridges for women to assist each other. She runs a tight ship and has the experience and resume to back up her commanding presence. When she asked me if I thought she was crazy to switch gears and start her own catering business, I didn’t hesitate to answer, “Hell NO!”

  Life’s path is never what we expect, no matter how carefully we plan. Students ask me all the time how I got started in this industry. My standard response, “I was a flight attendant”. Thought I would fly the friendly skies until I was too old to push the bar cart, but a strange series of events led me to owning my own shooting school. It’s true when they say if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. Kristi’s path is no different. 

Commitment To Serve Others Takes A Shift

   For the past 20 years, Martel has held a successful career in the health industry as a registered nurse, primarily in the cardiac field before moving into leadership. Like most strong women, she craved continuing education, new challenges and opportunities to leave a positive, lasting impact. Proudly adding a Master’s degree in nursing leadership and working towards her MBA, she imagined herself persisting as a patient advocate and continually striving for a better healthcare experience. Covid hit hard, even harder for those in healthcare. Kristi sought solace in her cooking and being able to get outdoors. Scrolling through her feed, she realized that the majority of her posts were food related. (This is what we refer to as a light bulb moment, lol). From the pots and pans of her home kitchen, Two Rivers Kitchen Cuisine started cooking. At the beginning of 2024, Kristi made it all official. She walked away from nursing with the support and blessing of her family and has literally hit the ground running! 

A Family Affair

  Hunting and fishing always seem to be shared down through the generations and across friendships. Kristi’s introduction into both was no different. Raised from infancy by just her father, she has many fond memories of always enjoying the outdoors with dad. Her father was a lifelong waterfowler, often sharing stories about his adventures with buddies targeting canvasbacks along the river. While Kristi was eager to engage in outdoor activities, it wasn’t until she was a teenager that she showed an interest in hunting. She would assist with brushing in blinds and loved spending time with her father but as a D1 softball player, she dedicated her time to honing her skills on the sports field rather than in the hunting blind. 

   As soon as she completed college, Kristi dove into duck and deer. Her time hunting was still limited as she was just beginning her career. At least, until one cold February morning when she walked into Wilcox’s Bait & Tackle in Newport News. She knew exactly what she wanted, a brand-new bow. She had no idea she would find a bow and a beau, her husband, Andy Martel. 

   Kristi and Andy hit it off from the moment they met, and the rest is history. They have enjoyed adventures across the country and Canada chasing feathers and fur. They have nurtured both of their sons with their hunting, watching them harvest game and being mentors throughout the process. Young William even tagged along on last year’s excursion to Canada! 

  I asked Kristi to name some of the most memorable moments she’s had in the hunt field. Two of them stood out immediately. First, when Andy was able to harvest TWO very rare birds and she was beside him to see the amazement and joy and share in the excitement. The second, when she harvested her first canvasback. She had seen plenty of them in the past but never within in range. Canvasbacks hold a very special place for Kristi as they are her father’s favorite bird. She gifted him with that canvasback in a gorgeous taxidermy. Andy was by her side that morning when she took the bird, adding to an amazing memory.

From Field To Table

   Memories are made in the field and on the water. For Kristi, it doesn’t end there. She showcases her hunting prowess serving up incredible cuisine with those animals. Her grandmother was one of 13 and Italian so the kitchen is a treasured space in the home. Meemaw had five children of her own and Sunday dinners were truly a family affair. Kristi’s father was forever adventurous with his undertakings on wild game and Kristi loved her time learning beside him and her grandmother. Food is nourishment for the body and mind. 

  The first wild game dish she ever prepared was venison Diane. This delectable and decadent sauce is rooted in French cooking and first appeared in the early 1900s. It features a big red wine paired with mustard and heavy cream. Grab the crusty bread and start sopping! Andy readily votes her venison Diane (and her fish cakes) as top contenders on the menu.

  Waterfowl is one of her favorite mediums as there are numerous species, each imparting their own unique flavor and bevy of preparations. She quickly warns that anything above medium-rare to medium and you tend to serve shoe leather. Snow goose is an unsung hero in her world. As one of her favorites in wild game dishes, she urges others to explore its options.  Kristi loves reliving the moments from waterfowl harvests. Watching the sky darken as thousands of birds circle in and land within 20 yards, one can only be in awe of the sight. 

But what about the bacon

  We are well versed in wrapping wild game in bacon or frying it. When I asked her about alternative recipes, she chuckled and replied, “There’s a whole new world out there that doesn’t involve vegetable oil and animal fat!” She regularly post recipes on her Facebook page (Two Rivers Kitchen Cuisine) and has a cookbook in the works. Kristi encourages everyone to invest in a few great kitchen gadgets, as she calls them. 

You definitely have to add a precision cooker (sous vide). It’s the ultimate item for waterfowl as it cooks low and slow, maintaining the perfect temperature throughout the meat.  An insta-pot is another must have as it offers a wide array of cooking options from sauté to frying. Finally, everyone needs a Big Green Egg from our friends at Green Top or Costello’s. It is by far her favorite appliance. And, having personally sampled her smoked duck, smoked salmon, smoked meatloaf and more, it’s mine as well!

  Kristi explains that while the meat alone provides a fabulous canvas for her cooking, every great canvas needs color. The selection of spices and herbs is endless but don’t ever run out of garlic, dill or thyme. These three are must-haves in her kitchen and she always has plenty of fresh on hand. 

For waterfowl, she encourages brining. Waterfowl, while it may look similar to chicken, will cook faster making it much easier to overcook. A good brine helps to retain the moisture through the meat. 

Bringing it to YOUR table

Can you imagine waking up one morning and taking a leap of faith to chase your passion? Kristi did and she did it with a dedicated and loving support system. It’s always difficult to convince yourself that you are good enough, that you can do this AND you will succeed. When your family depends on you, your worst nightmare is letting them down. Kristi has a phenomenal cheerleading section (yours truly included!) but doesn’t hesitate to graciously thank her father, husband, friends Krystin, Julia and Chris as well as the growing ranks of ravenous followers. 

You can easily take her cooking for a taste test. Follow her on social media where she posts weekly Family Night Dinners To Go, recipes and catering options. She is catching on as quickly a newfound hunting hot spot though so don’t hesitate to book her for your next event! Be sure to connect and share your tastings from her kitchen.

Facebook: Two Rivers Kitchen Cuisine

Instagram: @tworiverskitchencuisine 

Kristi’s Goose & Barley Stew

8 goose legs

1 large onion, chopped

1 bag baby carrots, chopped

8oz-16oz sliced mushrooms

4-5 celery stalks, chopped

1-2 medium zucchini, chopped

1 TBSP butter

2 TSP thyme

64oz beef broth (low sodium)

2 beef bouillon cubes or 2 TBSP beef broth concentrate

Morton’s to season

8oz barley

Sauté goose legs in 1 TBSP olive oil in InstaPot. Brown on each side then remove. Once all legs are browned, add back to pot and add broth

Cook on high pressure for 30min. In a pan on stovetop, sauté vegetables in butter. Do not cook vegetables completely. Set aside when done

Once cooking is complete on InstaPot, quick release pressure valve to release steam. Pull the legs out with tongs and remove meat from legs. Add back into pot (If you have a few bigger ones that are a little hard to remove meat, pull what you can then add back to the pot)

Add veggies, barley and thyme to the InstaPot, replace lid and pressure cook on high for 8min. Quick release the steam, stir and enjoy!

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