Local chef, Gigi Wilson, makes gourmet meals simple and fun.
Story by Robyn Passante + Photography by Lisa Staff
Gerri “Gigi” Wilson has been enamored with cooking since she was a little girl. She remembers pushing a kitchen chair to the stovetop to stand on while scrambling eggs for her family, and “cooking” Lincoln Logs on her kitchen play set for her brother and his friends. And she remembers drawing inspiration from her mother, who was a home economics teacher, her grandmother, who was “a fantastic baker;” and one other woman who knew her way around a kitchen.
“I would run home from school to watch Julia Child on PBS in the afternoons,” says Wilson, who worked in corporate events earlier in her career and spent many years entertaining clients of the commercial real estate company she and her husband, Jeff, had together.
All that entertaining meant a lot of tinkering in the kitchen creating new recipes, which the self-taught cook kept in a binder. “I probably had 400 to 500 dishes I’d come up with over the years,” she says.
A couple years ago she began transforming that binder of notes into a useful tool for others; the result is her first cookbook, “Fun & Simple Gourmet,” self-published this year.
“The book is very colorful, every recipe has a beautiful food photograph so you know what it’s going to look like,” she says. “A lot of them have very few ingredients, so they’re easy to put together.”
That simplicity is part of what she dubs “Gigi style.” “’Gigi style’ is just elegant yet not fussy. Lovely, but not difficult, just fun and simple. I love elegance but I like it in a way that everyone can enjoy it.”
The Nose Knows
Wilson is a self-taught cook who says she’s been helped along by naturally strong senses. “I have a gift of an exceptional sense of taste and smell. Mother used to say I should be a perfumologist because I could smell a scent from the other side of the room,” she says. “I just have a gift for knowing flavors and aromas and what goes well together.”
“I did some video cooking segments for a small streaming network. One of those segments was seen by someone in Chicago; they wanted to produce a cooking program with me.” So Wilson traveled to Chicago last fall and filmed a pilot for “Fun and Simple Gourmet,” a show based on the recipes and entertaining tips found in her book. “I really enjoy doing it, I had a ball. It was just a fun opportunity and if they’re able to secure the funding and the syndication they’re looking for, I’d be happy to keep going with them.”
A Hilton Head Island resident since 1984, Wilson and her husband spend winters in Nassau, Bahamas, and a summer month in Vail, Colo. But the Harbour Town residents especially love the Lowcountry. When she doesn’t feel like cooking (which is rare), Wilson says her favorite lunch spot is It’s Greek to Me. “The Greek salad is amazing, and fresh and lovely and my kind of food.” For date nights, they’re more likely to opt for a local bar like OMBRA Cucina Italiana. “Jeff is a real ‘bar’ guy, and Ombra’s one of those places where you can have a light bite at the bar.” Plus it suits Wilson, who’s a pasta lover.
Woman on a Mission
Some say we should all have a mission statement, and Wilson is way ahead of that game. Her tagline is “Live well, love well, eat well,” which can be found on her website and in her book, is her mission statement and words she lives by. “Live the best way you can by being healthy and good to yourself; love the best way you can by being good to others and embracing time with family, friends and even strangers, centered around food — the universal liaison that brings people and cultures together,” she says. “Food is not just essential to our own nourishment, but the nourishment of our culture!”
Gigi’s Cooking Tips:
- When entertaining, pick a simple menu with the freshest possible ingredients. Use kosher salt or sea salt, always freshly ground pepper and keep some fresh herbs on hand like thyme and rosemary, which keep very well in the refrigerator. Cooking and entertaining is meant to be fun, especially for the cook!
- Use a non-stick pastry mat for working with pasta or pastry. It’s great for kneading, laying out pasta sheets and cutting. Sur La Table offers a wonderful large pastry mat that makes working pastry dough for pies, scones, biscuits, cookie cutouts and pasta super easy.
- Add Cake Enhancer, available from King Arthur Flour, to help bread, muffins and cakes stay soft, moist and fresh longer.
- When zesting a citrus fruit, only take the dark part of the skin. The white pithy area is a bit bitter.
- To keep as many nutrients and flavor in your vegetables, don’t boil them. Opt for roasting, which releases their natural sugars and helps maintain their vitamin integrity and flavor. When making mashed potatoes, bake them first rather than boil.
Roasted Game Hen
My husband, Jeff, can’t live without a roasted hen at least once a week. These little guys are so simple to prepare and always a crowd pleaser. Fresh free-range hens are fantastic, but Tyson’s Cornish Game Hens in the freezer section are very good if you can’t find fresh. Add a few new potatoes to the roasting pan, and you have a one pot meal. I generally serve with my lemony Caesar salad.
2 whole Cornish game hens
1 lemon, quartered
4 sprigs fresh rosemary
10-20 sprigs fresh thyme
4 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 teaspoon Herbs de Provence
Course sea salt or kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
10-15 small new potatoes (optional)
 Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Drizzle roasting pan with extra virgin olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan. I prefer a cast iron roasting pan, but any roaster will do. Rinse hens thoroughly and pat them dry. Trim excess fat/skin and squeeze the juice from 1/4 lemon inside each cavity leaving the lemon quarter inside. Stuff each hen with 2 sprigs of rosemary, 5-10 sprigs of thyme and 2 garlic cloves. Place in a roasting pan breast side up and squeeze the remaining lemon over hens.
 Generously drizzle with good extra virgin olive oil. Rub skin to coat evenly and season with course salt and ground black pepper. Sprinkle each hen with 1/2 teaspoon thyme leaves and 1/4 teaspoon Herbs de Provence. Pour white wine around hens in the bottom of the roasting pan.
 Roast uncovered 45 minutes to one hour until meat thermometer reads 165 degrees and skin is golden brown. After 30 minutes, new potatoes can be added to roasting pan around hens to cook in the pan juices, soaking up this wonderful flavor. Make sure the potatoes are at room temperature when you add them to the roasting pan (not cold from the refrigerator).
 Remove from oven and loosely cover with foil to rest 10 minutes. To serve, bring hens to a board and cut along the breast bone lengthwise on both sides, pulling breast meat away from bone. Remove herb stuffing. Carefully remove spine and tail bone from each half with a sharp knife and arrange hens on a serving platter or individual plates. Spoon pan juices over hens and serve with roasted new potatoes or mashed potatoes. Garnish serving platter with a few sprigs of rosemary, thyme and lemon wedges.