ALTERNATIVE PROTEIN eat like a bird
common insects on our menu are house
crickets, wax worms and mealworms.”
Noting that the Bug Appétit concept
has been flourishing for 21 years, Lemann
says, “We have a nature center here, and
they were doing this since the 1990s.
When the insectarium came on line in
2008, they bequeathed the idea to us and
we’ve maintained it over the past decade.
Currently, we serve about 200,000 insects
return of the grasshoppers
to visitors each year at a cost to us of about $150-$200 per week.”
Lemann acknowledges that some guests are hesitant about biting into a bug. “We try
to instill a sense of adventure and fun, and that gets many to accept the challenge. We
always have at least one dish where the bug is sort of hidden—ground-up or powdered—
but we also have another where the consumer must contend with a recognizable insect.
Popular dishes include chocolate chirp cookies with crickets baked into the dough, six-
legged salsa with mealworms and cinnamon bug crunch with wax worms.”
In Oaxaca, Mexico, it’s not unusual to see someone eating grasshoppers, known
locally as “chapulines.” It’s a lot less common in Austin, Texas, but Rick Lopez,
executive chef at La Condesa, is eager to change that dynamic. Located in The Flour
House, a landmark Austin building that dates to the 1860s, the restaurant initially
offered chapulines as a guacamole topping for dinner selections.
When it didn’t go over, Lopez pulled it from the menu. “But I wasn’t giving up,” he
says. “I wanted to repurpose the use of chapulines with a fun approach. We brought it
back as a make-your-own-taco secret menu item. It started with a few locals enjoying it,
and they spread the word. The idea of being in on the secret has been a successful model
for us. We use chapulines because of their year-round availability and the familiarity
with the culture and cuisine of Mexico.
“Guests have always responded positively, whether they’re giggling and trying the taco
with friends or really digging in and asking for extra tortillas. The fact that it’s off the menu
makes the dish feel a little more playful and relaxes guests’ perception. They also know that
they ordered it and nobody pushed it on them as a dare, so they know what they’re getting
into. I guess if you have chapulines for dinner and meet your buddies for a beer after they ate
barbecue, then the whole eating bugs thing may be the talk of the evening.”
Lopez adds, “We also have a delicious salsa de chapulines for a fried steak and eggs
dish. It’s packed with protein, with tangy chapulines and spicy chile de árbol.”
The chapulines served at La Condesa are mere fun for some and a serious connection
moment for others, Lopez says. “I love when guests come in from Mexico. They feel
homesick, and maybe we can help fill that void with a meal. I also love when newbies order
the grasshoppers and end up saying, ‘Not bad.’ I don't take it as a backhanded compliment,
but as a positive step in helping others understand Mexican cuisine and culture.”
Eden East in Austin, known for farm-to-table al fresco dining, is both a
restaurant and an event space. DJs are on hand each Thursday evening, and a movie
night with five-course fine dining is featured on Friday and Saturday. The menu,
BUGSfeed.com, focused on entomophagy, offers a
Bug of the Week feature that has reported on such
delicacies as stingless bees, black soldier flies, June
beetles, escamoles (ant larva), mopane caterpillars,
cockroaches, locusts, wasps, termites, crickets, giant
water bugs and red wood ants.
In a 2016 posting, BUGSfeed researcher/outreach
coordinator Jonas Bruun referenced a Fast Company
article that placed the American edible insect industry
at $20 million and growing. He also cited a blog post
by Invenire, Finland, identifying the following reasons
for increased attention to this sector:
• Market demand for high-quality protein is
becoming more popular through a larger swath of
the population, not just athletes and bodybuilders.
• Insect protein can be presented in powdered form,
so squeamish consumers don’t have to face the
insect before eating it.
• Insect protein can make processed food seem less
“bad,” in effect, elevating it from being unnatural
• Insect protein offers benefits in both cost and
sustainability, particularly when compared to
protein obtained from livestock.
• The sustainability argument, in particular, may
contribute to customer loyalty; when people believe
they are doing a good deed by buying a certain
product, they are inclined to keep buying it.
Some of these rationales appear more applicable to
retail environments than to restaurants, perhaps, but
they carry weight nonetheless. Chefs, however, must
always keep in mind that none of these reasons for
insect consumption will work unless they are connected
to delicious taste and attractive presentation.
above, leFT: having such offerings as chapulines on
the menu enables staff at eden east to engage guests
in conversations about food and farmers.
above, riGh T: a young guest at bug appétit at New
orleans’ audubon butterfly Garden and insectarium
snacks on six-legged salsa with mealworms.