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Insects: Yum?

Insects: Yum?

Americans are becoming increasingly more adventurous at mealtime, but are they ready to start munching on nutritious insects such as grasshoppers in restaurants?

Not long back I had the pleasure of lunching with my daughter, Angela, in Washington, D.C., at José Andrés' Oyamel restaurant, which features contemporary Mexican cuisine. Angela is an adventurous eater and immediately suggested we order the Chapulines, a legendary Oaxacan taco specialty that features sautéed grasshoppers. Really? Okay, why not?

I’ve been covering the restaurant and foodservice industry for 25 years and I may have eaten insects somewhere along the way, but the opportunity to do so is at best rare. So when one of America’s great chefs is doing something this interesting and authentic, why would anyone say, “No!”? The tacos, by the way, are pretty damn good. They are sautéed with shallots and tequila and served with guacamole. It’s a textural thing, though, that could turn off some people. Biting into grasshopper bodies produces a crunch that reminds you that you are in fact eating fried insects.

I bring this incident up because, as I said, one rarely finds insects of any kind on restaurant menus in America. But last week I got the James Beard Foundation Member Newsletter that featured the Donaji Cocktail recipe from Riveria restaurant in L.A. Chef/owner John Sedlar learned of the cocktail while traveling in Oaxaca. The mescal-based, margarita-style drink is unusual because the rim of the drink not only gets the salted-rim treatment, but the salt is also mixed with chopped chapulines (in this case, crickets).

If given the chance, I wouldn’t shy away from ordering the Donaji Cocktail, despite the risk of someone saying, “Hey, cricket lips!" I’m having fun with this whole insect thing, but there are some serious considerations here. First, the people of Mexico have been eating insects for centuries and it’s just now beginning to show up here in the states largely because of the influence of some top chefs. But as American eaters yearn more for authenticity, they’re increasingly more willing to stretch outside their traditional comfort zones. At Oyamel, I saw a number of customers ordering the grasshopper tacos. And they’re beginning to show up on other Latin restaurant menus around the country, including Toloache in New York City.

The other more global consideration is that as the world’s population continues to expand, more traditional food sources, such as beef, are straining to keep up with demand. Insects, on the other hand, are considerably easier to raise than livestock and are very good for you. They are loaded with healthful vitamins and minerals and they’re low in fat.

With that said, I don’t see Taco Bell offering grasshopper tacos any time soon, but perhaps its something you should consider for your menu, particularly if you offer a cuisine with a history and tradition of doing so. The fear factor alone, coupled with the culinary challenge that adventurous foods seek out, would justify their presence on menus. Consider all the marketing miles you’d get from doing so.

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