By Paul Suplee, MBA, CEC, PC-3
What a wild week this has been, and no, your eyes do not deceive you. That is indeed a picture of chocolate bark adorned with roasted, edible insects.
Out of all these articles over the years, I have never written about this particular topic, and until six weeks ago, I do not believe that it would have even been a consideration, but things change quickly in the strange, wild world of Paul Suplee.
Six weeks ago was when I was asked to join an online meeting at the college with a chef out of New York City, Joseph Yoon.
Chef Yoon specializes in entomophagy, or the study of edible insects as a viable food source.
As a good and loyal employee, I attended as instructed. My colleague, Ebony Jenkins, is a PhD candidate in the Agriculture Department at UMES, and her specialty is entomophagy.
At first, I was interested but also a bit gun shy, having only eaten a bug or two during survival training in the Marines (S.E.R.E. School to be precise, and yes, they taught us what to eat and what to stay away from in the woods).
I vowed that I would never voluntarily eat another bug for the rest of my days.
And then Chef Joseph came into my life.
We have been working around the clock, creating dishes such as cricket mac ‘n cheese, the pictured buggy chocolate bark, caramel popcorn with candied nuts & crickets, stir-fried rice with crickets, grasshoppers and mealworms et al.
But we did not stop there.
I made a batch of cricket bread that paired stunningly well with a black ant butter, which if I did not tell you what was in either, you would tell me was the best buttered bread that you had ever eaten.
Chef Joseph likes to use the word “mystical” when explaining some of the insect flavors, and honestly that word does the food great justice.
I have learned so much about the art and industry of edible insects, and before you come at me about how people in this field are simply trying to take away our meat, I can assure you that we have eaten our fair share of chicken, pork, bacon and wings since Monday.
It is simply a thorough investigation into supplemental food sources as the global population burgeons.
For example, did you know that cricket powder (roasted and ground crickets) is one of the most nutrient dense food sources known? In 2 1/2 tablespoons, you will find 319 percent of your daily value of Vitamin B12, and 13 grams of protein. On top of this, it contains nine essential amino acids, the building blocks of protein in our body.
This is one reason why Chef Joseph has encouraged many professional athletes to add them to their diet.
As he puts it, the steak, chicken and pork are great, but just prior to gameday or the big fight (he has numerous clients who are professional MMA fighters), you can pack in the protein without solely relying on traditional animal products.
For me, the proof in the pudding came after Monday night, when about 40 people showed up to our “movie night.”
Airing numerous interviews with Joseph and Ebony, the evening ended with an NPR show on the topic, which featured our two friends.
This is where we served nachos with cricket cheese, the assorted caramel popcorns, and a savory popcorn with sal de gusano, a salt with roasted agave worms, a Mexican specialty.
It was such a smash success that Tuesday and Thursday nights were sold out overnight at 75 guests.
This was a far cry from the reservations that we had just one week earlier, and it proved that this is a very engaging topic for many people.
Will I ever serve bugs in my restaurants? That remains to be seen.
Perhaps I will use them in a popup or on a special menu, but I have enjoyed working with them. It has been fascinating to try various bugs, from mealworms, agave worms, black ants, crickets, grasshoppers to scorpions.
Insects will find their place to our table one way or another.
We are already eating some in processed foods, and now it’s time to see if they are viable in our day to day lives.
Oh, the strange, wild world of mine.
Buggy Chocolate Bark
makes about 1 pound
1 # good quality dark chocolate
1 c. Roasted crickets
1 c. Roasted mealworms
2 c. Rice Crispies cereal
- Set up a double boiler (a steel or tempered glass bowl over a pot of lightly simmering water).
- Place chocolate in the bowl, making sure that no water touches it.
- Gently stir the chocolate until it is completely melted.
- Set up a sheetpan with parchment paper or a silicone mat.
- Pour the chocolate onto the mat, and gently spread around until you get to a thickness of about 1/4 to 1/2 inch. Any thinner, and the bark will be floppy and won’t have structure.
- When the bark is at a reasonable thickness, evenly sprinkle the top with the crickets, mealworms and rice cereal.
- Place in the refrigerator and allow to come to a cool enough temperature that it sets up.
- When the chocolate has completely hardened, remove from the mat and break into bark pieces.
- Store in an airtight container until ready to serve.
Paul Suplee is the owner of the boxcar restaurants
and is also Senior Lecturer of Culinary Arts at UMES.