One might say David George Gordon is quite the authority on insects. He has published a handful of books ranging in buggy topics from The Secret World of Slugs and Snails to the popular Eat-A-Bug Cookbook, as well as given talks everywhere from San Diego Comic Con and Yale University to the Ripley's Believe it Or Not! Museum.
Heck, he even penned The Complete Cockroach: A Comprehensive Guide to the Most Despised (and least understood) Creature on Earth back in 1996 - if that doesn't read like a textbook straight out of a Hogwarts-required reading list, we don't know what does.
The longtime Seattleite took a moment to chat with us about all things creepy, crawly and tasty. From the health and environmental benefits of eating bugs to his sourcing process, read on for the lowdown on the fascinating culinary frontier.
Seattle Refined: Tell us about your first experience working with bugs.
Chef Gordon: I began cooking with edible insects and their kin in 1996, developing recipes for my Eat-a-Bug Cookbook, which was released in 1997 by Ten Speed Press. At the time, I was living in Port Townsend, and my kitchen became my learning lab. It took me way longer than I’d planned to develop the 30 recipes in that book - if you think writing recipes is easy, think again.
What dish is a good starting point for someone new to the world of bug eating?
I recommend beginning with crickets - they’re easy to obtain and fairly easy to incorporate into a number of dishes. Plus, for some reason, they look like something we’d eat. Remember, we eat with our eyes, so visual appeal is an important factor.
What are some of the benefits of eating bugs?
Bugs are rich in protein, more or less equivalent to lean ground beef. Plus they have vitamins and minerals (termites, for instance, are rich in iron; crickets are loaded with calcium), and they are sources of omega-3 fatty acids - natural anti-oxidants that are commonly found in salmon and other ocean fish.
What's your favorite dish to prepare?
It’s hard to pick a favorite. However, I really enjoy making tempura-battered tarantulas (here's a nice YouTube video on this). These spiders may look gnarly to some, but when I’m finished prepping them, they have a taste and texture that resembles soft-shelled crab.
You've prepared meals for everyone from hungry patrons of Cafe Racer to the Explorers Club in New York City - which of your dishes are among the most popular?
People seem to enjoy my grasshopper kabobs and also my waxworm quesadillas. Waxworms aren’t really worms - in our culture, we call anything that wiggles a “worm.” They’re actually small white caterpillar that feeds on the beeswax from a hive. Here’s a critter that’s spent its entire life eating beeswax and honey. What’s not to like?
Tell us about the environmental benefits of eating bugs.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations says that we all should be raising and eating more bugs. That’s because the way our populations are growing, they anticipate that an additional billion people will be sharing our planet by 2050. It will be near-impossible to feed everyone using our so-called conventional protein sources — things like chicken, pork or beef. Did you know it takes nearly 2,000 gallons of water to get one pound of steak? Or that 16 pounds of feed are required to get that same pound of meat? With insects, the food and water requirements are much, much lower. Some edible insects, such as mealworms, don’t need any water at all.
In addition, cattle are major producers of greenhouse gases — the ones that are largely responsible for climate change. If we were to get our protein from farm-raised grasshoppers instead of cattle, it’s been suggested that we could reduce greenhouse gases by 20 to 40 percent.
Tell us a bit about your sourcing process - what regions do your bugs come from?
I have a “resources” section in my cookbook, which was revised and updated in 2013. But there are plenty of places online that now sell edible bugs. Especially popular right now is cricket powder, or “flour,” made from roasted and ground-up crickets. You can use this powder as a nutritional supplement in things like baked goods, smoothies or flapjacks. You can also go out and harvest your own bugs - but only if you’re sure the bugs are living in pesticide-free environments.
Because I am frequently cooking for large groups (the Explorers Club banquet was attended by a thousand people), I need to make sure I can get large quantities of bugs, ideally year-round. I currently have a stockpile of Chinese black ants, dried locusts from Paris, and Mezcal “worms” (blue agave caterpillars) from Mexico.
What is the most difficult bug to work with?
The larvae of bees are delicious, but hard for me to collect and keep fresh. To get them, I first freeze a piece of honeycomb then break it apart to extract the larval bees. When frozen, they’re like little white bullets. However, once they begin to thaw, they deteriorate really rapidly. For this reason, I don’t get to serve them very often outside my home.
What's next on the horizon for you?
I’d like to do more private parties and special events in Hollywood and for some of our local hi-tech companies. These folks are the opinion-shapers in our society. In other words, if Leonardo DiCaprio is doing it, everyone will want to follow suit. I’m finding a very receptive audience in Hollywood (check out my appearance on the Late Late Show With James Corden online) and am waiting to find the right catering company down there to help bring my message of nutritious, delicious bugs for all.
Bonus last question: As a long time Seattleite, where is your favorite Seattle summer hang?
Look for me at Darrell’s Tavern on Aurora Blvd. My studio’s right upstairs from there.
For more info, check out David's website.