Annual Manual 2018: Boise Gets Bugged? 

The trend of eating insects may soon hit the City of Trees full force

At Idaho Botanical Garden's Bug Day celebration in 2017, kids munched their way through plastic cups of crickets dusted in flavors like cheesy ranch, Buffalo wing and hickory smoked bacon courtesy of the College of Idaho's Orma J. Smith Museum of Natural History. While the so-called "Pestaurant" may have turned a few grown-up stomachs, it was right on the cutting edge of haute cuisine. Across the country, chefs are turning to insects as a sustainable, low-impact source of protein, citing bugs' relatively low water intake and ability to thrive in small spaces as advantages over traditional protein sources like cows, pigs and chickens.

The New York Times and Washington Post have written about the viability of eating bugs for years, but in many places around the world, including most parts of Asia, Africa and South America, the practice is de rigueur. America has dragged its heels behind the bandwagon, but in 2015, Time magazine published "20 Delicious Bug Recipes from Chefs," which included spotlights on such American dishes as Chef David George Gordon's deep-fried tarantulas and Chef Rick Bayless' worm-salt margaritas.

click to enlarge These cricket flour protein bites tasted nutty and sweet—you'd hardly believe bugs were the star ingredient. - SEAN SEVERUD
  • Sean Severud
  • These cricket flour protein bites tasted nutty and sweet—you'd hardly believe bugs were the star ingredient.

Since insects are not yet widely available in American restaurants or on the shelves of most grocery stores—the cricket flour protein bites we tried from Exo, for example, had to be ordered online—it may seem unlikely that the Gem State will be eating bugs any time soon. But entomophagy—the technical term for dining on insects—is already happening in Boise, even outside educational events like Bug Day. Frozen silkworms sell for $2.95 a pack at Asia Market on Fairview Avenue, and when Boise Weekly took an informal poll at Alive After Five on June 13, we found that 76 percent of respondents would be up for chowing down on creepy-crawlies prepared by a professional chef. In fact, many had already tried them, whether in survival training or as kids in the backyard.

The next step is white-tablecloth restaurants, and Chef Christian Phernetton, the eco-conscious executive chef now heading up both Camel's Crossing and State & Lemp, may be the one to take it.

"I've worked with some people in California that actually make cookies out of cricket flour," said Phernetton, speaking to BW as he strolled through one of his two biodynamic-inspired farms, where he sources local produce for his dishes. "I have [cooked and eaten bugs]," he added. "I've never served them."

But Phernetton isn't against the idea. He started cooking in Boise, but has worked in professional kitchens on both coasts, and said there are two main problems with serving insects in Idaho: sourcing, as they aren't yet farmed locally, and stubborn palates.

"There's a big population that feels like they've already decided what they like and what they don't like, and even if they haven't tried something they still don't like it," Phernetton said. "But I think food in general is starting to become more of a concern to a lot of people, wanting to have a relationship with it or an understanding."

click to enlarge Asia Market on Fairview Avenue sells frozen silkworms for $2.95 a pack. - LEX NELSON
  • Lex Nelson
  • Asia Market on Fairview Avenue sells frozen silkworms for $2.95 a pack.

As a relatively sustainable source of protein, bugs may well be up and coming for Idaho's adventurous eaters. The more Phernetton talked about the possibilities, the more enthusiastic he got about trying the idea himself.

"I think that [a bug dish] would be a cool thing to do, but probably more at State & Lemp than Camel's Crossing," he said. "... The first thing that comes to my mind is ants, because I have seen some chefs in Scandinavian countries use them quite a bit, and out here on the farm I've seen lots of them, so it might be something easy that I could get into."

Culinary thrill-seekers should keep an eye out for a dish flavored with ants—which Phernetton said offer "pretty strong herbal notes," and a dash of citrus—on the State & Lemp menu in the coming months. If you're too curious to wait, score your Bold Chef Badge by trying the bug-based chocolate chip cookie recipe below, which comes courtesy of Bitty Foods, the San Francisco, California-based cricket flour company that once collaborated with Phernetton. While cricket flour isn't yet a common item in Boise, it's made as close by as Portland, Oregon, where Voodoo Donuts once used it to make a Bavarian cricket cream donut in 2016. Order your own Pacific Northwest grind online here.

click to enlarge JASON JACOBSEN
  • Jason Jacobsen

Bitty Foods' Cricket Flour Chocolate Chip Cookies
Time: 1 hour • Servings: 32 cookies

2 1/3 cups Bitty Flour • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda • 1 teaspoon kosher salt • 2 sticks cold unsalted butter • 1 cup molasses sugar (can substitute dark brown sugar) • 3/4 cup granulated sugar • 2 eggs • 1 cup chocolate chips (mix dark and semi-sweet for best results)

Preheat the oven to 335 degrees. Sift dry ingredients into a bowl and mix well. Beat half of the butter in a standing mixer using the paddle attachment until smooth. Add the sugars and the rest of the butter and beat until creamy. Add the eggs one at a time and beat gently. Add dry ingredients gradually until combined. Stir in the chocolate chips. Refrigerate the dough for 15 minutes. Line baking sheets with parchment paper and roll out balls of dough. Arrange the dough evenly on the lined sheets and bake for 10-12 minutes, rotating the trays halfway through. Allow the cookies to cool until their bottoms are firm, then transfer them to cooling racks.

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