The chef delicately fanned out the plump, slightly spindly legs in preparation of butchery. He held up what was to be our main course in his left hand and, with his right, commenced torching the body with a lighter… to remove the course hair.
With a sharp knife, the chef sliced the abdomen from the main frame — leaving behind a trail of oozing butt and dispatched spinnerets.
“How many legs do we have?” our guest chef, David George Gordon, quizzed just before dipping the legs into a tempura batter.
“Eight!” my kids screamed in unison. The air was thick with trepidation, curiosity and the slightly feint smell of burned spider hair as we huddled around our kitchen counter near a baseball sized Tarantula.
As a journalist I write about “Cookin’ and Trippin’” across the Pacific Northwest with my five kids. There is nothing I love more than meeting interesting locals and exploring food with my rowdy, hungry brood.
Did I mention this particular chef, David George Gordon, is called the Bug Chef? And that day’s adventure was eating bugs?
My kids were thrilled. Out of all the sumptuous cooking adventures we’ve been on, they were most excited to savor Deep-Fried Tarantula Spider, the coup de grace recipe (and creep factor) of the Bug Chef’s second edition cook book called, The Eat-a-Bug Cookbook.
Like most Americans I can only imagine eating bugs in one of two ways:
A worst case scenario, say, starvation.
Or, from the comfort of my cushy divan next to a plate of peanut butter cookies while watching far away contestants from Naked and Afraidchowing down on wriggling grubs or spiders.
But I wanted to interview the Bug Chef because I was curious to try. I had read that certain bugs were rich in protein, vitamins and minerals. And there are many environmental reasons to consider bugs as a food resource: carbon footprint is miniscule compared to raising cows and chickens, and cheap price for high protein — all of which is wonderfully detailed out with humor and wit in the Bug Chef’s fascinating, The Eat-a-Bug Cookbook.
It seems very plausible that our future will include popping a few crickets in the Vitamix everyday. At this point, that seemed more palatable than haute cuisine a la bug.
As the Bug Chef prepared our meal we discovered in addition to being a chef he plays harmonica, sings in a band called Zizzy Zi Zixxy (it’s a modified spelling of the last listing in the 1965 Chicago phone book) and has been an advocate for the natural world his whole life.
“Most of the world’s cultures eat bugs. We’re the weirdoes because we’re NOT eating bugs.”
I will admit to being charmed by Gordon’s dry wit and wacky waxed mustache that swirled at the edges. He reminded me of a nerdy circus ringleader.
“A friend of mine told me a story about his visit with an Ainu (Japanese First People) elder. She told him that people were put on this planet to sing the praises of Nature — the only thing that Nature couldn’t do by itself. When I heard that, it all became clear: that’s what I’d been doing all of my life, even as a child, sharing my enthusiasm about the natural world with others. As an adult, I’ve done that by writing and speaking, often about topics, such as slugs and snails, that we wouldn’t ordinarily study or take the time to marvel.”
I love the Bug Chef’s kid-friendly approach to “gourmetifying” eating bugs. It’s genius because it appeals to kids in a whimsical and fun way as opposed to scaring them with future predictions of environmental doom and gloom that will force us humans into eating bugs and/or laboratory grown meat.
Who knows what the future will hold, but as a parent, I always think it’s better to first engage kids’ minds and stomach’s with interesting ideas that challenge their senses and give them good memories.
If our future is to eat bugs it’s best to start ‘em young.
After all, our childhoods are fertile ground for comfort food memories that stay with us. Elvis loved his mother’s deep-fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches. Could I entice my kiddos with happy memories of steaming chocolate-covered Chapulines (Mexican grasshoppers) roasted and seasoned with chiles and lime?
“You want to make sure each leg gets nice and coated with batter,” the Bug Chef said, holding the spider carcass delicately as if it were as expensive as say, a lobster tail.
And, tarantula at roughly 24 dollars a pop is pricey.
“Right now, tarantulas are expensive because they’re only bred on a small scale, primarily for the pet trade. If we approached tarantula-rearing the way we do poultry farming, you bet your bippy the price per spider would come way down.” The Bug Chef explained, confidently.
We stood around our kitchen nervously chatting away the three-minute cook time.
I’m here to tell you that all the data in the world about the glories of eating and cooking bugs doesn’t mean squat when you’re standing next to the Bug Chef as he offers you a deep fried spider leg.
“Thank you,” I say, with a gulp, realizing that the time has come for me to “mom up.”
My mouth feels dry and I just hope I have enough saliva to get it down.
“Kids are definitely more adventurous and willing to take risks,” the Bug Chef said as he began doling out spider legs to my kids.
“I like to do a cheer before we eat,” the Bug Chef rallied, “One, two, three, eat it, eat it, eat it!”
As I chewed, I thought, this wasn’t bad. I did begin to wonder why a stringy tendon-like stick in my mouth wasn’t dissipating as I ground down my molars.
“It’s perfectly fine to eat the exoskeleton,” the Bug Chef advised thoughtfully. “Or spit it out.”
Seeing as we were on camera and in deference to the Bug Chef, I chose to swallow.
“It tastes like octopus,” my thirteen-year-old daughter added, thoughtfully.
“Yuck!” my six-year-old son, Patrick coughed, before spitting out roughly three buck’s worth.
I glanced at the Bug Chef. “Sorry!” I said.
He waved my worries away, leaving the impression that when you’re the Bug Chef, adventurous eaters spitting out exoskeletons is par for the course.
So much for my food experiment… Proof that even being a mother of five doesn’t mean I have all the answers about parenting or food.
At least that’s what I thought.
But later that day, after the Bug Chef had departed, Patrick (the spitting out child) approached me with a spoonful of Nutella topped with a dead spider no doubt foraged from some dark alcove in our house.
“Here you go, Mommy! Bug appetite!” He said, wearing a mischievous grin. Followed by, “When’s the Bug Chef coming back, I want to try eating that spider again!”