In April, I had the chance to spend time in the Noma kitchen with chef de cuisine Daniel Giusti, who was the first to explain to me how a restaurant committed exclusively to Nordic ingredients can add a splash of citric acid to its beef tartare. In short, they don't. Instead, foraging teams round up Danish wood ants — the little dudes don't go down without a fight, either, power-spraying formic acid on all invaders — and then freeze-dry the insects before mixing them with salt. Giusti gave me a small bowl of the mixture to sample: It tasted just like lemon salt.
When I returned to Washington, I was excited to share my knowledge with the gastronomes in my tribe. I flashed them iPhone photos. I explained the process for capturing the acid-spewing critters. I told them how fabulous the beef tartare tasted. Most of them made faces, the kind of dry-heave flinch usually reserved for images of open head wounds. (Whatever you do, do not search Google images for "open head wounds.")
So it's with great interest — or perhaps mild interest masquerading as great interest for a blog item —that I read about the Pestaurant on Pennsy, an insect-heavy lunch available today only at Occidental Grill on Pennsylvania Avenue NW. It's part of a event taking place in 12 countries to celebrate (acknowledge? pretend to care about?) the 85th anniversary of Rentokil, a company with exterminators across the globe, including J.C. Ehrlich in the mid-Atlantic.
Organizers of Pestaurant are promoting it as, essentially, a freak show. You can not only sample grasshopper burgers, crispy barbecue mealworms and scorpion lollipops, but also take selfies with the grossest insects you encounter. Sort of like, I guess, the selfie Brad Paisley took next to Westboro Baptist Church. You can also compete in a cricket-eating contest.
Did I mention the lunch is free? The friendly pest exterminators, in fact, will donate $5 to D.C. Central Kitchen for every person who just tries one of the six-legged snacks or $20 for those willing to enter the cricket-eating contest. Charitable giving has never been so painful.
Randolph Carter, vice president of marketing for Rentokil North America, says the kitchen at Occidental Grill is tasked with developing the grasshopper burgers. Rentokil is supplying the food-grade insects, and the restaurant is preparing the burgers, which will mix grasshoppers with minced turkey, bibb lettuce, piquillo peppers and avocado puree on a sweet potato roll. (The other snacks come from a company called Hotlix.)
So what percentage of this otherwise tasty-sounding burger is comprised of grasshoppers?
"That's a trade secret," deadpans Carter.
As part of Pestaurant, Rentokil and Ehrlich are pushing the consumption of insects, which "are high in protein, B vitamins and minerals like iron and zinc, and are low in fat," says a press release. Which sounds like a decidedly mixed message to me: By this logic, is the company behind Pestaurant essentially helping to wipe a superfood clean off the Earth?
I asked Carter if Rentokil, you know, ever captures any of those insects for the food market, like chef Rene Redzepi at Noma, instead of just blasting them with the finest in deadly chemicals.
"No," Carter says good-humoredly, "that would be completely inappropriate."
Pestaurant on Pennsy, 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. today, at the Occidental Grill, 1475 Pennsylvania Ave. NW.