Bug fare at the Bug Fair
May 16, 2012
The “Bug Chef Cook-Off” debuted at last year’s fair, and it’s back again in 2012 by popular demand. Three of the top entomophagists (bug chefs) from across the country are ready to go antenna to antenna with their best bug dishes.
They’re part of a burgeoning bug cuisine movement that’s grabbed the attention of publications including Time and The New Yorker, which have chronicled the efforts of those seeking to make insects palatable as human food for a variety of environmental, ethical and economic reasons.
One of the movement’s stars, David George Gordon, won last year’s cook-off at the museum with tempura-battered tarantula and teriyaki grasshoppers on rice noodles. Gordon, 62, an ardent bug consumption advocate, said hosting the cook-off is a very progressive move by the museum.
“In the United States and Europe it is an uphill struggle,” said Gordon. “Europeans have a bad attitude about bugs. But meat is basically muscle, whether from a tarantula or a cow. Tarantula has a similar texture to crab.”
Gordon, a science writer in the process of updating his Eat a Bug Cookbook, said a trip to Switzerland inspired him to add fondue to this year’s menu (think decadent, chocolate-dipped locusts).
Daniella Martin, the brains behind the Girl Meets Bug blog, is on her own mission to bring critter cuisine to the public. Her YouTube videos offer step-by-step instructions on how to cook and eat things like wax worm tacos and fried scorpion.
The third contestant is David Gracer, 47, of Rhode Island. He is the founder of Small Stock Foods, a company that arranges educational programs, bug tastings, bug catering and bug food sales. He has appeared on “The Colbert Report” and the “Tyra Banks Show” to promote human consumption of bugs. According to Gracer, the reasons to eat insects are both environmental and culinary.
“It’s a good way of dealing with overpopulation by conserving our water and food resources,” said Gracer. “On the other hand, there is also the adventure and fun of eating something new. When you eat insects you are eating closer to nature.”
Gracer’s dishes will feature wax worms, Ugandan katydids (“surprisingly rich, they taste a lot like crispy French fries”) and a surprise ingredient—maybe giant ants, he said.
In addition to competition dishes, the chefs plan on providing courageous attendees with free samples, like Gordon’s famous Chirpy Chex Party Mix. (The “chirpy” part, as you may have guessed, is roasted crickets.)
The Bug Fair, which bills itself as the biggest bug festival in North America, will provide plenty of other entertainment, too—entertainment that doesn’t involve eating or watching other people eat bugs.
The theme for Bug Fair 2012 is the “Year of the Fly,” and if that conjures thoughts of biting horseflies or pesky gnats, museum curator of entomology Dr. Brian Brown wants a chance to change your perspective.
“A few bad apples like mosquitoes that have ruined our thinking about flies,” said Brown. “Most are neutral or beneficial to humans.”
For example, Brown will be presenting “flower flies,” which look a lot like wasps or bees. Brown said flower flies are important pollinators that also feast on aphids— the small, plant-devouring pests that are the bane of gardeners everywhere. Brown also said the flies are a popular subject for amateur naturalists who have moved beyond the most popular species like birds and butterflies.
Other attractions at the event include bug pinning demonstrations, bug-sniffing dogs, specimen handling opportunities and “Supersized Insect Walkabouts”—costumed performances that include a giant monarch butterfly on stilts. The museum and its insect exhibits will also be on display, along with a related special exhibition of jewel-encrusted butterfly brooches in the Gem and Mineral Hall.
The Bug Fair runs from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, May 19, and Sunday, May 20. Tickets are $12 for adults, $9 for seniors and students, $8 for youth ages 13 to 17 and $5 for children ages 5 to 12. Kids under 5 are free. Parking is $8 or $10 in adjacent lots, but attendees may opt to try Metro’s new Expo Line, which has two stops just a short walk from the museum.