Grubs up! The chefs who love cooking with insects
Eating insects has both nutritional and environmental benefits. However, lots of people still won’t partake in entomophagy unless the bugs on their plate actually taste good. Whilst many enjoy the uniquely nutty taste of bugs like crickets, others prefer them to be prepared and cooked with other more upmarket ingredients. Fortunately, some of the most talented chefs in Australia enjoy cooking with insects, concocting exquisite dishes that could easily be (and sometimes are!) served up at Michelin-star restaurants.
The renowned Australian chef Kylie Kwong has been serving up crickets, cockroaches, mealworms, and even ants at her restaurant, Billy Kwong, since 2013. Kylie, who once feared bugs, has stated that her dream menu includes Australian insects like witchetty grubs and honey ants. Popular dishes on the menu at Billy Kwong include stir-fried baby crickets with a black bean and chilli sauce and Cantonese fried rice with mealworms. Of entomophagy, Kwong says, “I want it to become usual. I want it to be an everyday thing, so it’s very much dotted throughout my whole menu now.”
Matt Stone is the leading sustainable chef in Australia. Since he began his cooking career in 2002, he’s risen to the pinnacle of the culinary world. When he opened Australia’s first zero-waste cafe, Silo, he teamed up with the horticulturist Josh Engwerda. Together, they went on to grow and harvest their own crop of crickets. Stone served up crickets deep-fried and then flavoured with native ingredients, including pepper and lemon myrtle. He also made a bun out of crushed cricket meal. For Stone, it’s the sustainability aspect that makes cooking with insects so appealing. When discussing how they can be fed on restaurant scraps, he said, “I was breeding insects on food waste,” he says. “It’s something that I want to focus on again in the future.”
For Brisbane chef Damon Amos, taste comes first when cooking with insects. He says, “I can add insects to a dish but if there’s no benefit to them being there, the dish won’t work. One of his most popular bug-based dishes is gunpowder-cured salmon with green curry and black ants. “The ants mimic citric acid and go really well with seafood”, he says. However, he does concur that some insects are a step too far, noting that although he enjoys the taste of cockroaches, “there’s no way you can get Queenslanders to eat them”.
Welgemoed is the head chef of Africola, a South African restaurant located in Adelaide’s East End. Since he was born and raised in South Africa, he is no stranger to insects as food, and for several years, he’s been at the forefront of fine dining entomophagy in Australia. He regularly experiments with crickets, grasshoppers, mealworms, and bees, including them in tasting menus for adventurous diners. One of his most memorable dishes includes a cheeseboard with a difference – a combination of cultured curd and oxidised apple with roasted ants which make it appear as if it has been left out overnight! Of serving up insects, Welgemoed said that most people are “wowed by them, and excited to eat them, mostly for the novelty factor”.
As you can see, insects are slowly but surely making their way into fine dining in Australia. Kwong, Stone, Amos, and Welgemoed are just a few of these chefs who love incorporating bugs into their culinary creations.