Alternative Proteins

Watching Hugo Ortega Work Might Convince You To Try Ants

Chef Ortega demonstrated his work with insects at UH.

By Cory Garcia February 20, 2018

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Everything is better with guacamole. 

Image: Cory Garcia

It was early afternoon on the day that Texas Monthly named his restaurant Xochi the best new restaurant in Texas, and chef Hugo Ortega was over at the University of Houston. Before the event began, he told the assembled group at the Spec’s Beverage and Food Appreciation Lab that he had been hungry and needed a snack. Luckily for him, he was able to grab a few grasshoppers that were on display to tide him over. Everyone chuckled when he said this.

Ortega was at UH for their first celebrity chef event, and the topic of the day was edible insects. This is a subject that Ortega is familiar with, as you can find Tacos de Chapulines (grasshoppers) appear on the menu at Hugo’s and Mole de Chicatana (ants) over at Xochi. These dishes are proof that one need not resort to breakfast bars and candy to get their insect protein, and that dishes featuring insects can have their own weird beauty.

There are plenty of reasons to consider working insects into your meal plans. Before the cooking component of the event, assistant professor Tiffany Legendre, who has spent plenty of time studying the world of insects as food, talked about the practical, long-term reasons we as a society should embrace edible insects. It’s simply not efficient to produce beef and pork for human consumption, especially when you compare them to what it takes to produce farmed grasshoppers. Add that to the fact that the global population only continues to rise, and you’re looking at a world that needs to make better use of its resources to keep everyone fed.

Not to mention, insect dishes look super cool on your Instagram. You laugh, but Legendre explained there’s a certain type of eater that will make the leap to trying insect dishes because of the adventure and to show off they tried it. The hard part, she explained, is not just getting people to try insects, but getting them to consume them on a regular basis.

If everyone had the ability to do what Ortega can do in the kitchen, the world might just be full of more people chomping down on them on the regular. The examples that he shared with those in attendance were, to this writer at least, far more appealing than edible insects in their raw state. That shouldn’t be a surprise: take a mortar and pestle to something long enough, and even the scariest looking bugs become just another part of a sauce, no different than garlic or cinnamon. Ortega suggested that if you wanted to really ease your way into the world of edible insects, you can grind up some grasshoppers with salt and use them to rim the glass of the beverage of your choice.

That drink might not save the world on its own, but it might show you that grasshoppers aren’t that scary. Plus, a little liquid courage never hurts when it comes to eating insects.

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