Bugalicious: chefs mix it up for adventurous diners

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Bugalicious: chefs mix it up for adventurous diners

 

The Canadian Press

TORONTO - Crickets have hopped back on the menu at Toronto's Atlantic restaurant.

Chef Nathan Isberg admits the deep-fried critters are a novelty but says "there's some people who really dig them."

Strange though it may seem to the ordinary Canadian palate, there are many people who delight in platters of ants, scorpions, worms and even bullfrogs -- if they are cooked just right.

Isberg says some diners may be turned off by the squishy or crunchy delicacies. But for more adventurous types, he's happy to whip up dishes like chili-fried crickets with greens, cricket-fried rice or grilled crickets and jellyfish on a skewer.

The insects were briefly swatted off the menu until an insurer recently gave the OK for their return. Isberg uses rosemary or oregano to spice them up but admits he doesn't cook them every night since it takes a while to raise them to the right size.

"If people are particularly interested in it then I have them available, but they are pretty labour-intensive."

The manager of Toronto's public health food safety program says he has seen crickets, mealworms and other unusual delicacies during his 32 years of inspections.

Pests usually come to mind when people think of insects at restaurants but Jim Chan says most bugs are edible if cooked and handled properly.

He's seen frozen turtles in a supermarket freezer, dried snakes at grocery stores and dried sea horses in herbal stores.

Sometimes, even an inspector's jaw will drop. Chan recalls a couple of years ago when a colleague opened a fridge at a Toronto banquet hall.

"There's the head of a deer sitting in the middle of the fridge," says Chan.

A couple of years ago in Toronto's east end, an inspector ordered an operator to open the box she was trying to hide under a kitchen counter.

"There was a whole bag of frogs, live American bullfrogs -- those are the big ones. And it was just hopping around. She was going to slaughter those frogs to serve in the restaurant," says Chan.

The deer head and frogs were seized over permit and food safety issues.

Insects are more often served at special events rather than restaurants in Canada. But such cuisine is catching on at authentic Mexican restaurants in the United States, says Jeff Stewart of Creepy Crawly Cooking in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.

Before, only 10 to 25 per cent of those attending special events he catered would taste insects, Stewart says. Now, it's closer to 75 per cent.

At the 5th Annual Bug-a-licious Insect Food Festival in February, Stewart cooked up cricket candy and white chocolate crickets, Chinese scorpion soup and fresh ant fettuccine alfredo.

"Is it healthy, is it good for you?" asked Stewart. "Yeah, if you look at the nutritional content, they're very good for you."

Still, chefs should check with their sources since wild bugs can be exposed to herbicides, he says.

 

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