The Brooklyn Bugs Festival dishes a three-day feast, including cocktails, tasting menus and an open-air insect market.
Brooklyn is bugging out.
Edible insects have begun crawling onto American restaurant menus and supermarket shelves recently as adventurous foodies realize that dried crickets, fried grasshoppers and gourmet worm salt are tasty, healthy and sustainable.
And this Labor Day weekend, vendors in Greenpoint and Williamsburg are hosting the Brooklyn Bugs Festival, dreamed up by Dinner Echo chef Joseph Yoon, who also threw an insect feast last spring that featured steak tartare crostini topped with spicy mealworms, braised beef shortribs with silkworm pupae and cricket cream puffs.
“There are many good and positive aspects of eating insects. They are sustainable, they are viable, and now chefs are learning that they can also be delicious,” Yoon told Moneyish. “I’m even seeing my neighbors put crickets on their toast.”
Austin, Texas has hosted its annual Bug (Eating) Festival every summer for the past decade, and Denver hosted an edible insects conference earlier this year, but this is Brooklyn’s first foray into a foodie festival centered around the creepy crawlies that many New Yorkers are more inclined to squash than savor.
The infest-ivities kick off on Friday at Kinfolk 94 in Williamsburg with discussion panels covering food for thought such as the ins and outs of cricket farming, and whether edible bugs should be introduced to first-time diners front and center on the plate – or hidden in the dish, the way you conceal vegetables in a kid’s mac & cheese. Snacks, lunch, dinner and drinks will be served, with insects as the star ingredients, before DJ Spooky spins a “Bug Out” afterparty. This Inaugural Event runs from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., and is $99.
Saturday morning boasts an outdoor market with international insect vendors hawking their gourmet grub, plus children’s programs introducing kids to entomophagy – or eating insects, as 80% of the world’s population across South America, Africa, Asia, Australia and New Zealand already do. There’s also a pop-up “Entomophatron” diner serving more bugs and showing videos. It runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at t.b.d. Brooklyn in Greenpoint, and tickets are $25.
The pièce de ré·sis·tance is the $120 Bug Banquet on Saturday night, which is being prepared by Yoon at The Brooklyn Kitchen, and is hosted by David George Gordon, author of the “Eat-a-Bug Cookbook.” Complimentary wine and cocktails are included in the $120 10-course chef’s table tasting dinner to give you the liquid courage to taste Yoon’s scorpions and Japanese hornets.
And Sunday wraps things up with a community brunch (with bugs, of course) at Guadalupe Inn, which is free admission, but guests pay for whatever tab they run up.
While Americans are still squeamish about noshing on ants and scorpions, the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization recently warned that with the global population expected to hit 9 billion people by 2050, we’ll likely have to turn to insects in order to feed everyone. Not only have 1,700 species of insects been identified as safely edible, but they’re much more sustainable to raise than cows and more traditional livestock. And many insects are also loaded with amino acids, good fats, iron, magnesium and zinc.
Plus, chefs and manufacturers are finding tasty ways to present them – particularly crickets, which are seen as the gateway bug, and make tasty protein bars, protein powders and even salt & vinegar snack crisps. In 2015, the edible insect market was valued at $33 million, and it is expected to exceed $165 million by 2023 in the U.S. alone, with some international sites like GMI Insights predicting it to hit more than $523 million globally by 2023.
And this wouldn’t be the first time Americans acquired a taste for something they used to consider icky. “Sushi took about 30 years before Americans accepted it. Lobster took hundreds of years, and now it’s a luxury food,” said Yoon. “I think people are going to come around to insects a lot quicker … especially with top chefs making them in dishes that look so appetizing, and learning how to use these ingredients, and posting them on social media.”
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