Julia Duckworth of Savannah, Georgia recently had the opportunity to attend a dining experience centered on the premise of entomophagy. Below is her accounting of her experience. A more complete biography for Julia can be found here.
There are few things more fascinating for food scientists, chefs and nutritionists than food habits from the past and from other cultures, how we can learn from these for our future. The traditional habit of eating insects and the potential of edible insects as a future food source are a good example of this.
Last Friday, I had the unique opportunity of attending Eat Ento, an insect fine dining experience at an ultra secret location in London near Borough market. During the course of the delightful evening, I my assumptions regarding insects and my entomophagy taboo were gently challenged. It was quite an intimate dining experience as there were only about 40 adventurous diners at the event. The menu featured 4 beautiful, tasty courses each paired with a bespoke Grey Goose cocktail.
The first course was visually stunning, a pleasant mix of vibrant colors: pink, red , yellow. I also found the rich range of textures from the crunch of the radish, to the smooth gel masala to the rich and creamy but still with some bite of the honey caterpillar and cricket risotto quite interesting and very appealing. But ultimately, I found the flavors of the first course to be a bit bland or perhaps the flavors were a bit too subtle for me. The chef introduced each course and informed us that the honey caterpillars in the risotto in the grow in honeycombs. They feed on a rich diet of honey and have a very delicate and nutty flavor.
The second course and my favorite course was the Dashi Consomme with grasshopper dumplings. It reminded me of Japanese miso or udon noodle soup. It had a really enjoyable savory, umami flavor which complemented and balanced sweet Grey Goose The’ Vert cocktail. Grasshoppers are currently eaten in several cultures throughout the world from Thailand to Mexico. The grasshoppers in this meal were farmed in the UK and were fed fresh greens.
The main course, grasshopper and honey caterpillar medallion was garnished with a pair of grasshopper wings and was full of flavor and surprising rich and satisfying. The texture was similar to lamb cooked to medium temperature. I can imagine pairing this course with a full-bodied white burgundy from Cote de Beaune or the Maconnais or possibly even a light fruity, red like a Gamay.
The fine dining insect experience concluded with a presentation of 4 artful and decadent desserts. The most memorable dessert of the evening in terms of visual aesthetics was the chocolate terrarium. It was so beautifully packaged!
The popcorn panna cotta with burnt bee larvae was served in a petri-dish that reminded me of the blood agar plates I used to prepare in the food microbiology lab while I was completing my Masters degree. I was very hesitant to try this dessert and actually began feeling a bit squeamish. After a few moments of deliberating whether or not I should try the panna cotta, I placed a tiny amount on the back of my spoon and put it in my mouth. To say that I was pleasantly surprised is a total understatement. It was sinfully sweet and delicious! The chef explained that drone bee larvae are a by-product of organic beekeeping. They are highly nutritious and mature slowly. Subsequently this makes the colony more susceptible to varroa mite attacks, so beekeepers often remove them as a preventative measure. The larvae are creamy and soft in flavor, they are also very high in protein.
Overall, I was a bit disappointed with the cocktails served throughout the evening. I prefer classic, simple cocktails like a dry gin martini with a twist, a Manhattan or a Negroni. I thought many of the cocktails served had too many ingredients, were a bit too sweet and somewhat watered down. Fortunately, I don’t think any of the cocktails interfered or clashed with any of the courses. I thought that the sweetness of The Vert cocktail balanced the savory and umami flavor of the Dashi Consomme.
The Eat Ento indulgent fine dining experience, successfully challenged my thoughts and assumptions regarding the entomophagy taboo. Prior to the evening, I assumed strength of the taboo was going to be reflected in the flavor and texture of the food. I learned that this is simply not true. I would encourage everyone to be a bit adventurous and dare to challenge the cultural taboo surrounding entomophagy. If you are interested in some of the history of entomophagy, click here.