A plate of raw scorpions sat on an island bar at MEET on Chrystie in lower Manhattan. Brooklyn East IPA littered the table around it, and the hands of people around the bar gripped wine stems and cocktail glasses with a passion. Some 20 minutes later, two of the scorpions were gone.
Alcohol sure has a way of getting people to do things they wouldn’t normally do.
The scorpions were part of the release party for chef Don Peavy’s new web series “Buggin’ Out.” The title is about as informative as it gets when it comes to giving you a peak of what’s to come — it’s about incorporating bugs into our diet — and the press invite, which was simply addressed to “Adventurous Eater,” was just as forward.
On the menu for the night was cricket pasta with mealworm bolognese, cricket sliders, insect fondue and tempura fried hornworms. To drink: two types of beer, three types of wine and an insect-infused “Hophattan” that was made with cricket bitters and Buffalo Trace bourbon. And there’s a big reason why the length of the drink menu matched the length of the featured food menu.
“We all know alcohol lowers inhibitions,” Dave Gracer, an English teacher at the Community College of Rhode Island, told me. He’s a bug-eating expert and makes an appearance in “Buggin’ Out,” but more importantly, he’s a man who will do anything to get people to give bugs a chance.
I took a bite of bug burger that tasted a bit like Top Ramen and washed down a stray leg (or it could have been an antenna, who knows?) with a semi-dry Riesling.
“I agree with anything that puts bugs in front of diners,” Gracer said. “I don’t have a sufficient palate to understand the taste profile and the attributes and how to pair this with that. But I will say that asking what bugs taste like is similar to asking what fruit tastes like. There’s enough variety in bugs just like there’s enough variety in wine.”
It didn’t take much alcohol variety for people’s inhibitions to lower earlier that night. All it took for someone to grab a slightly slimy scorpion was one drink — two drinks, tops.
“Maybe I can get a tapeworm,” one guy said as he looked at the bug variety on display. “I’ll be thin by spring!”
I took another sip of the Hophattan and tried to place the slightly dusty (but not bad) taste.
If you live in New York City, it’s not too hard to find some bugs of your own, Gracer told me. You can definitely find canned silkworm pupae, although Gracer advises that any frozen bug is better than a canned bug. Medicinal shops in Chinatown have dried scorpion and centipede, but “if you show up just as a white guy and ask, they’re likely to shut you down.”
The crowd at the “Buggin’ Out” launch didn’t care if they could walk across the street and get their own dried scorpions to try in private, though, These were fresh and the crowd around the scorpion quickly grew.
Then the reality of lowered inhibitions and not knowing exactly what you’re putting in your mouth came crashing down.
“Nooo!” Peavy shouted as he side-stepped through the crowd and picked up the plate of scorpions in one swoop. Turns out you have to cook scorpions, and Peavy had a fried scorpion with fondue recipe for later. The raw little guys were only plated with their stingers pointing out for some video and pictures, not to eat then and there.
The guy who made the tapeworm joke and another guy who said he is a sushi chef had both eaten a whole scorpion. They poured some Buffalo Trace into an empty martini glass and downed it in one shot without flinching.
Bugs might be the future of food and alcohol might help us learn to accept those bugs into our diet, but just make sure you do a little research first.