The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation says insects are the food of the future and that Western consumers need to open their minds. Australian cook and restaurateur Kylie Kwong already serves insects in her Sydney restaurant.
“It’s just so exciting, I’ve been serving insects in my restaurant, Billy Kwong, since February (2013) and the response has been just so positive but just from a simple cook’s point of view insects are delicious!”
As well as the restaurant, Kylie also shares her love of cooking at her regular stall at Sydney’s Eveleigh Markets on Saturday mornings. Very much in the style and tradition of Chinese street food, the stall offers a few selected dishes featuring native Australian ‘bush foods’ and also a gentle introduction to eating insects.
“In my restaurant I serve the whole roasted crickets with, for example, the cricket and prawn wontons or I might serve a stir fried cricket dish with black bean and chilli where you do actually see the whole body (of the cricket), but with market stall I thought I would just gently, gently introduce the products to my clients so I’ve got the steamed sticky rice parcels with warrigal greens, macadamia nuts, goji berries, and I put crushed roasted crickets on top.”
“There are some people who would like to see the whole beast so I’ve got a little container of whole crickets underneath my table which I’m very happy to show people, but it was deliberate (to not serve them whole) as I thought it might be a bit early for the whole beast.”
In other parts of the world eating insects is completely acceptable and this is the point of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in their recommendation that Western consumers should ‘open their minds’ to an environmentally friendly food source.
“There is so much to love about insects. They are super-sustainable to breed and produce very little methane gas. They’re incredibly rich in iron and protein and incredibly delicious! The roasted crickets taste like dried shrimps, roasted wood cockroaches are extraordinary in that they smell and taste like chocolate and coffee beans.”
“The wood cockroach’s natural habitat is the forest so they feed on the wood and so on, but the difference with my insects is that I have them bred to order by Skye Blackburn, an entomologist in Parramatta. I actually give Skye organic vegetables which I source from Eveleigh market and she feeds the vegetables to my insects, so it’s fantastic because I know absolutely what I’m getting, how they’ve been bred, what they’ve been eating and it’s this great story that we can tell our customers.”
“Just in my Chinese heritage we’ve been eating insects for thousands and thousands of years, just like indigenous Australians, so it’s a wonderful cultural, historical and sociological story as well. I am completely obsessed with it!”
Kylie Kwong has long been an advocate of sustainable and ethical food production and puts this into practise in her cooking.
“I’ve had the Australian native plants on the menu for two years now and I was really inspired to take them up after I listened to Rene Redzepi give the opening address at the 2010 Crave festival.”
“All of us just walked out of there feeling completely bowled over by what this remarkable chef had to say. I left there thinking I really had to offer more natives on my menu at Billy Kwong.”
“Discovering Australian natives, just the plants to begin with but now I’ve wallaby on the menu, has completely revolutionised our cooking there and it’s allowed me to give our customers a truly authentic Australian Chinese food experience. Nowhere else in the world will you have vegetables like this.”
“For example we do steamed vegetable dumplings like the Chinese have been doing for thousands of years but I fill my dumplings with warrigal greens, or we’ll make a crispy organic saltbush cake – very similar to a Chinese shallot cake that you’ll have in Chinese street food but I simply fill mine with saltbush leaves instead of spring onions.”
“I’m very inspired and driven by ethics and sustainability but the actual produce is also just so delicious, it’s so tasty and there’s so much texture.”
“Truly unique flavours, they’re very simpatico with the Chinese flavour profile. The sourness of the Davidson Plum is like an Umeboshi Plum so I serve that with my crispy skin duck. Sugarbag honey from the Australian native stingless bee is extraordinary. It’s very rare, very expensive, the bees only produce about one kilogram per hive per year so I’ve been hoarding it in my coolroom, but it has a lovely lemony acidic flavour.”
The UN acknowledges that ‘consumer disgust’ is one of the biggest barriers to the consumption of insects in Western countries.
“I guess it takes cooks like myself (to change things). I’ve got five different insects integrated into the main menu at Billy Kwong, they’re on offer every day, they are not just a special every now and then.”
“My whole goal is to make edible insects the usual hence the reason I serve them at my market stall as well, I want these creatures to be an everyday thing in our diet.”
“So I guess the more coverage we get, the more people will buy them, the lower the price will be – they’re very expensive, about $100 a kilo.”
“They’re a little bit like dried scallops in that they’re considered a delicacy in indigenous Australia and certainly the Chinese culture.”
“We must remember that most insects are actually crustaceans. When I started to think about eating insects for the first time – and you need to know that I have been a terrible arachnophobe and insect-phobic person my whole life.”
“I’m the person who used to jump and run out the door when I saw a Daddy Longlegs in the room, but now my cupboard at the restaurant is full of roasted insects. I’ve actually got some live green tree ants on offer at the moment, they’re fascinating creatures.”
“When I brought the first packet of roasted crickets into Billy Kwong, there’s me screaming and squawking, four of my five chefs are Chinese and they all looked at me as if I was crazy and like, “Yeah, we’ve been eating those all our lives in China, what are you going on about?”
“The more I read about the subject, the more obsessed I get but on a very simple note they’re very delicious. To deal with the ‘yuck factor’ if we think of insects as crustaceans and bring to our minds the image of a prawn or crayfish or yabby – we all love those beautiful seafoods.”
“If you look at a grasshopper or cicada or locust or cricket they are in fact tiny little crustaceans and that reduced my fear.”
“The Chinese call insects ‘prawns in the sky’ and insects are here to stay on my menu.”