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The Zest: 'Bugsgiving' Is A Feast Of Insects

Lobster with black ants and scorpions
Brooklyn Bugs
Lobster With Black Ants And Scorpions

Chef Joseph Yoon’s idea of comfort food might not be to everyone’s liking. His Honeycrisp apple slices dolloped with Greek yogurt and drizzled with honey are a promising start. But the roasted grasshoppers and superworms strategically poking up from the tangy yogurt take the experience in another direction.

The 'yuck' factor is high, but for gastronomic explorers brave enough to take a bite, the super worms have a surprisingly cheesy flavor. No wonder they pair so well with apple and honey. The grasshoppers, meanwhile, have the earthy crunch of roasted pumpkin seeds. Chef Yoon, founder of Brooklyn Bugs in New York, was at the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg recently, singing the praises of edible bugs, both for their taste and versatility and their ability to save the planet. Brooklyn Bugs’ mission is to raise awareness of edible insects and to help spread the United Nations endorsement of them as a way to address food insecurity and sustainability. According to Yoon, about 80 percent of the world’s nations use insect protein in some form.

Credit Brooklyn Bugs
Bug Spread

“We want to break down the stigma of eating bugs and present them as an ingredient,” Yoon said. “This not an apocalyptic food for poor people but rather a wonderful, responsible, delicious opportunity for us to adopt something that is fun and will leave something for future generations.”

To gain Tampa Bay area converts, Yoon developed a tasting menu for the MFA’s “BugsGiving” to coincide with Jennifer Angus’s “'The Grasshopper and the Ant’ and Other Stories” exhibit which runs through Jan. 5. Angus used more than 5,000 exotic, dried insects to create a fantastical world inspired by “The Grasshopper and the Ant” painting from the MFA’s permanent collection.

For the event, Yoon developed a dozen dishes, including brownies made with cricket powder and square bites of panko-crusted mac-and-cheese laced with dried mealworms. Cocktails included cricket-infused gin.

Before the event, Yoon sat down with The Zest to talk about the mission of Brooklyn Bugs. This is the second year that Yoon has created a buggy November feast to coincide with Thanksgiving.

THE ZEST: Check out recipes and listen to past episodes

“It really shows a sense of gratitude and lets us rethink perceptions,” he said.

Yoon says the insects he uses are food grade and procured with care -- and he's not advocating eating the creepy-crawlies that we might pay someone to get rid of.

“There are still lots of bugs that bug me out. Bugs crawling around our kitchens are still pests,” he said. “The bugs that we use (for cooking) are harvested for human consumption and processed at FDA regulated facilities.”

Eating roasted black ants sprinkled over cocktail shrimp could be as unsavory to an adult as that first mouthful of peas is to a child, he said. As we grow up, our taste buds follow suit. Just like there’s no one vegetable that makes everyone love vegetables, there’s no “silver bullet” bug that gets everyone to love eating insects.

“You have to work your way up to the Manchurian scorpion,” he said.

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