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 the 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, my assumptions regarding insects and my personal entomophagy taboo were gently challenged. The dining experiece was intimate. Only 40 adventurous diners attended the event. The menu featured four beautifully designed, 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. The dish featured a rich range of textures from the crunch of the radish, to the smooth gel masala. The honey-caterpillar and cricket risotto was interesting rich and creamy but still with some bite. Overall, the dish was appealing, however I found the flavors of the first course to be subtle bordering on bland. The chef introduced each course and informed the participants that the honey caterpillars in the risotto grew in honeycombs. The insects are fed a rich diet of honey and have a very delicate and nutty flavor.
The second course, my favorite, 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 featured in this dish were farmed in the UK and fed fresh greens.
The main course, a 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 a medium temperature. I could easily 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 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 an understatement. It was sinfully sweet and delectably 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, and, as an added bonus, 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 were somewhat watered down. Fortunately, I don’t think any of the cocktails interfered or clashed with 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 that the strength of the taboo was going to be reflected in the flavor and texture of the food. I learned that this was simply not true. My take away from the evening would be to encourage everyone to be a bit more adventurous and dare to challenge the cultural taboo surrounding entomophagy. If you are interested in some of the history of entomophagy, click here.