Tuesday, August 7, 2007

A Contest in Richmond

Yet more big news: I'm going head-to-head against the renowned David George Gordon. The email was so splendidly official that I am co-opting the text:

On August 1st I was invited to participate in the first annual Broad App├ętit, a festival hosted by Richmond's Downtown Neighborhood Association. On Sunday, May 18, 2008, from noon until 5 p.m., West Broad Street will feature Richmond's finest chefs, a bug chef cook-off, specialty food vendors and visual artists. There will be food demonstrations and competitions, a mini-Farmers' Market, children's activities, street performers, music and more. The event will be heavily promoted through print material and advertisements in print and on the radio.

The slightly longer story is this: David George Gordon (whom I saw give his bug cooking presentation way back in 2002 here in Providence, and who, it must be admitted, has been a sort of model for my efforts) has competed against the redoubtable Zack Lemann in the past, and Zack was approached for this event so that the pair could duke it out once more. But AH!, Zack has a engagement set for that weekend that cannot be shifted. Thus the mind reaches for some replacement, so that the contest aspect of the thing can be realized. My name is broached, and deemed acceptable to all parties.

Naturally the news has thrown me into excited nervousness, and it's taken me a week of thinking about it to be ready to "blog it." I need to start planning. More updates on that progress to come.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Chapulines On The Menu!!

Wow. What a great way to start the month.

Today I dropped off a half-pound of the tiny chapulines at TWO popular restaurants here in Providence. I won't say which ones just yet, other than one of them is a Mexican place and one serves hipsters and artist-types. In a little while I'll ask them if I can include their names in this blog; what matters for the moment is that these adventurous people had taken samples from me and decided that it was time to play with a new ingredient.

In fact I'd made one or two previous small-scale sales before these, from that larger order I'd picked up last month. I know that there are other restaurants out there also willing to take the plunge, and I'll be selling frozen/chilled insects at a few of my up-coming events.

Thus the whole thing grows....

What Gourmet Insect Food Looks Like

In addition to getting the exotic bugs -- as I've mentioned several times by now -- the other main push this summer is to develop my cooking skills. I've mentioned elsewhere that people are often surprised that insects don't taste all that bad, and that that reaction is no longer satisfactory to me. Therefore it's time for me to finally develop my own cooking skills and make the insects shine.

And there are precedents models out there. Zack Lemann (last name is pronounced as 'Lemon,' by the way) is one of those few well-known insect chefs around. He's out of New Orleans and is currently orchestrating a venue at which regular insect-cooking demonstrations will be taking place. This is pretty amazing stuff. These are some of his culinary creations.

First is f-ANT-assticcrackers. The key ingredient is "Hormigas Culonas," the Leaf-Cutter Ant Queens. These were harvested in Colombia.

The Grasshopper Gumbo. These are lubber grasshoppers; they're quite large, and there's a big question about them.

Odonate Hors D'Ouerves. These are tempura-fried dragonflies on mushroom slices.

The Split Pea Whole Hopper Soup

Recently I was able to glean a few things from a chef at a party thrown by an Entomological Society. By and large this was a regular summer shindig: there were the traditional expected foods --

Grilled chicken; salmon; hamburgers and hot dogs. A token ear of corn.

And there was a variety of cooked insects:

One might say that these were "grilled," but in my slowly growing sense of clue regarding cooking I'd guess they were more steamed on the grill. While no liquid had been added, the convection from the coals never got through the foil, which means that no grilling was going on.

And how were these insects? Not so good. Too damp. The Giant Hissing Cockroaches were easily the worst, in fact they were inedible as a result of the whole 'juices trapped in the bug's body' reality. Really roasting them would likely be better, the more so after either ventilating the insect or even removing the gut.

The worst part was that the insects were basically wasted, because few people wanted to try them. I had quite a bit, but it looked hopeless.

Then in stepped Steven, who's a real chef. He was curious about insect cookery, and he showed me the best way to fry insects.

Here he is, keeping close watch over the crickets.

And a shot of the silkworm pupae that followed:

Worth noting: the netted-scoop-tool to the left of the pan is known as a 'spider.' That's amusing.

This was the first chance I've had to learn and prepare for the future. Making insects into haute cuisine makes me wish I had some real training.