And to start, a
nice pate de foie grasshopper
entomological society's banquet, the kitchen was hopping and so was the
NEW YORK - The hors d'ouevres had
six legs. The chocolate cake was covered with candied crickets. And if
diners found a fly in their soup, they didn't complain. It probably
Such was the cuisine consumed last night by members of the New York
Entomological Society, the organization of insect enthusiasts that came up
with the novel idea of presenting a banquet of bugs to celebrate the
society's 100th birthday.
They charged $65 a plate and were overbooked.
If eating insects seems daunting, preparing them was even more of a
challenge to the kitchen staff at New York Parties, the Greenwich Village
caterer chosen to fix the meal at New York's famed Explorer's Club.
Tony Mininno, the account executive who devised the insect menu, said
the chefs had never knowingly cooked bugs before and knew nothing about
their culinary properties. How are they cleaned? How are they prepared?
How do you keep them from squirming off the counter?
What the cooks learned is that bugs are high in protein, minerals and
unsaturated fats and are frequently consumed by indigenous cultures.
Gene R. DeFoliart, a retired entomology professor at the University of
Wisconsin who publishes the Food Insects Newsletter, said that his
favorite bug is the greater wax worm, which was easily raised in the
"We used to drop those in the deep fat fryer for about 40 seconds,
take them out and dip them into salt," he said. "They taste like
DeFoliart, who was the keynote speaker last night, said that although
European and American cultures frown on eating bugs, the consumption of
insects is unavoidable. Almost all fruit and grain products, including the
breakfast cereal perhaps in front of you right now, contain a measurable
amount of bug matter.
But that knowledge did not help Mininno or his colleagues, who found
few cookbooks that addressed insects, except for the seminal works by
California bug enthusiast Ronald L. Taylor, who wrote Entertaining With
Insects and Butterflies in My Stomach.
So Mininno and the head chef, Sharon Elliot, marched off into uncharted
"What I did was go through our own repertoire of hors d'ouevres
and dishes and I made adjustments to the recipes to make the appropriate
insects work," Mininno said.
Much of the fare was based on relatively common species, the sort of
meat and potatoes of the insect world: mealworms (beetle larvae), wax
worms (moth larvae) and crickets.
But the menu also included such exotic fare as sauteed Thai water bugs
(a rather large creature that eats small fish) and roasted Australian
The chefs also threw in a few orders of roast beef and chicken normandy
for those entomologists who would rather not eat fritters encrusted with
Each table was adorned with a floral centerpiece that included a small
fishbowl containing a live tarantula, scorpion or a goliath beetle, which
the members provided from their collections.
Most of the livestock that went into the meals came from breeders that
supply bait shops and pet stores. Mininno said that when the 10,000 worms
and 10,000 crickets arrived in cardboard boxes, the kitchen staff erupted.
"I wish I had a video," said Mininno. "There were people
shuddering in horror, screaming and closing their eyes, walking out of the
The crickets came packed in a box. "They sat here on my desk for
half a day and they were serenading me as I was conducting my work,"
said Mininno. One evening, hundreds of the crickets escaped from the box,
creating a panic and two hours of work to collect them.
But the chefs overcame their initial revulsion and began to regard the
bugs like any other ingredient - one that had an appetite of its own. They
fed the bugs diced apples and potatoes to purge the insects of any paper
wrapping they ate in transit.
Mininno described the critters.
"The wax worm, well, it looks like a big maggot," said
Mininno. "It's a beige color and it doesn't have any legs. And we had
the super mealworms, which are about three inches long, and those have
kind of a hard skin and they do have little legs on the bottom, and
they're very active, they really crawl around. And they bite - nothing
terribly painful, but they do nip."
The first task was to clean the insects, which must be kept alive until
they are ready to prepare.
The crickets were dunked in ice water to lose some spring in their
step, then flash-frozen in plastic bags. Afterward, their heads, entrails
and legs were removed in the same fashion as one would clean a shrimp.
"It's very tedious, actually," said Mininno.
The worms require less work.
"There's nothing you have to do to them except purge them and wash
them," he said. "After they're dry, you can either roast them or
you can boil them. Once they're in that state, you can freeze them and
then use them later on.
"Boiled worms work well in fillings or spreads. We're doing a
crudite dip for the vegetables in which the boiled worms are pureed with
pepper. We did a mushroom pastry made with flour and roasted ground worms.
. . . It was actually very good. It looked like whole wheat.
". . . We're doing corn fritters with worms, and the worms do
protrude out of the fritters in various curls and configurations.
Obviously they look like something, like worms. We're doing a chocolate
cake that contains chopped-up crickets in the filling and will be
garnished with whole candied crickets.
"We're also doing a trail mix on the bar, which will be an
assortment of worms and crickets that will be flavored with a chili
flavoring, so it will be good with drinks. Those will be very obvious what
they are. They'll be crispy fried."
Elliot, the chef, said cooking with insects was not much different from
using any other ingredient. "Once you get over them visually, then
they taste like anything else," she said.
The kitchen staff swirled around her, carrying containers with
masking-tape labels such as "cream cheese mealworm dip" and
"bug grub." Behind the stove, a cockroach scurried up the wall.
"Yikes," said Elliot, taking a swat at it with a rag.
"That's not one of ours."
FRITTERS WITH AN EARTHY TOUCH
1/3 cup creamed corn
1/3 cup canned corn
3 to 4 tablespoons corn meal
1 large egg
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 1/2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup corn oil
3/4 cup fried whole mealworms or wax worms
Beat egg until light and add corn. Add flour, corn meal, baking powder,
salt, pepper and nutmeg. Melt butter and mix together. Fold in worms.
Ladle 1/2-ounce portions into deep fryer containing hot oil. Serve hot
with plum sauce. Makes 25 very small fritters.
(From Sharon Elliot, head chef, New York Parties.)