The Bug Banquet

By: Sabrina Mirabella

“Part dinner party, part sensory experience with a pinch of performance art”

For some people, the thought of munching on a cricket makes their skin crawl. For others, it’s intriguing. For Matt Kominsky and Chloe Bulpin, it’s inspiring.   

Chloe Bulpin, RISD graduate, and Matt Kominsky, JWU Culinary Nutrition graduate, joined forces to do what every college student with little to no free time would do…. show the world how tasty bugs could be! This pastime led the duo searching high and low in the depths of Asian markets, seeking their favorite bugs, to experiment with. But it didn’t stop there, they thought big, and wanted to really make an impact, influence others, and serve nothing but the best food using insects.

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Fast forward after months of testing recipes, and spreading the good word to classmates, the Bug Banquet was in full force. Imagine an elegant evening at University President’s house with 85 of your closest personal friends and colleagues. Students and professionals sipping cocktails, laughing, dawning bug masks. To an outsider, it may seem like some type of eclectic networking event, and in some ways it kind of was. But, the Bug Banquet went beyond networking and small talk. The BB team set out to wow their guests, and to most importantly help diminish the “cultural bias and discomfort around insects”.

Here are some words of insight from the chef, Matthew Kominsky behind the culinary and design duo.

What made you interested in the Bug Banquet?

I first became interested in the Bug Banquet because it was a true culinary challenge that required creative thinking to transform an ingredient generally repulsed by Western Societies into something surprisingly delicious. Part dinner party, part sensory experience with a pinch of performance art. More importantly, I was enthralled by the BB because it starts a conversation about environmental sustainability. It forces us to reevaluate the food and water waste created by our current food system, and seek nutritious alternatives to feed our growing global population. It was the perfect thesis to culminate my time at Johnson & Wales University, as a student studying Culinary Nutrition, with concentrations in Clinical Dietetics and Food Science.

How does insect-focused food contribute to sustainability and the Reduce Food Waste Initiative?

Food sustainability relies on producing food in a responsible and thoughtful manner. We must consider the cause and effect that our food systems have on our global community. The term sustainability is more than a marketing buzzword. It is the capacity to endure; to remain productive and diverse, indefinitely. It has become clear that environmental sustainability is the foundation of our future, and no industry is impacted by this more than the Food industry. The future of our food systems requires revolutionary thinking that re-evaluates our habits and seeks alternatives to our decaying system. An overlooked opportunity is entomophagy, the consumption of insects as food. Insects are consumed by cultures around the world and are featured on the menus of high-end restaurants, most notably, Noma. Despite this fact, there is a definite cultural stigma in the West. An “ick-factor” surrounds insects. They are seen as sign of plague or disease; it is almost a punishment to consume them. The focus of the Bug Banquet was to help change these prejudices and bias against a nutritious, sustainable, variable collective of ingredients.

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Tell us more about transforming insects into food

The menu included items like hummus canapés made with silkworm pupae; cricket pesto flatbread, made with a gluten-free cricket flour blend; wasabi crickets with green onions; tempura-fried insect medley.  By far, my favorite insect to serve was Lechocerus indicus. Native to Thailand, these are by no means an attractive insect. They are large, armored waterbugs. However, when you crack into the exoskeleton, you are met with an explosive, fruity aroma. A mild and pleasant flavor, reminiscent of pears and tropical fruit, it pairs well with warm spices. Later research revealed that this was a popular flavoring agent for street foods South East Asia. I infused the waterbug into an ice cream base with cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg. This was the final course of the Bug Banquet, served with rich salted caramel and cricket-cookie crumble.

Where do you see the insect industry going as the trend becomes more mainstream?

I definitely think the trend of consuming insects has staying power in the market. There are already a number of small start-up companies capitalizing on nutritious, protein packed cricket flour in diverse forms. Bitty Foods makes and sells GF Cricket Flour and Cricket Flour cookies; Exo makes Paleo friendly cricket protein bars; 6 Foods will soon be bringing Cricket Flour Tortilla chips to the market. I think this sector of the nutritious foods market will grow more in-depth over the next 5 years.

For more information on the Bug Banquet’s journey, as well as Chloe Bulpin’s aesthetic exploration visit http://www.chloebulpin.com/bugbanquet

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