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Stewart says insects are consumed globally

He's cooked Dungeness Crab in Vancouver Island's renowned Sooke Harbour House. He's cooked red beans and rice at Patout's in New Orleans. He's prepared locally raised food at On the Twenty in Jordan, Ont.

And Jeff Stewart has also cooked scorpion at the Niagara Parks Commission's Butterfly Conservatory. In fact, he's going to do it again this weekend.

Stewart has what you might call a varied culinary resume.

What's more, Stewart, who teaches restaurant entrepreneurship at Niagara College in Niagara-on-the- Lake as well as at Niagara University in Lewiston, sees nothing out of the ordinary about any of this.

"I've always been curious about new foods," he said on the phone. "Maybe because my mom was a food and travel writer and I often accompanied her." And, about the scorpion ... "I love experimenting. I love doing what nobody has done before and I love exploring other cultures through foods," he said. "When you travel, you realize what a narrow view of what we eat we have in North America."

The Canadian professor mentions such delicacies as the witchety grubs (moth larvae), enjoyed by the aboriginal people in Australia; fried grasshoppers eaten in Mexico; and a delicacy called Mopani (caterpillar larvae) in Botswana. (When Stewart cooks Mopani, he dudes it up with tomato and onion.)

On his Web site,, subtitled "Changing minds one bite at a time," Stewart writes: "The vast majority of the planet (with estimates as high as 80 percent) consume insects as some part of their diet. Whether a delicacy, on special occasions, as a snack or when other protein is simply not available, insects are consumed globally.

"What's gross to some, is a delicacy to others."

What will he cook Saturday and Sunday at the Butterfly Conservatory as part of the demo entitled Bug-a-licious?
"Not butterflies," Stewart says quickly.

Well yes, that would be tactless. (Besides that, butterflies are not edible, in case you really wanted to know.)

Because this is the Conservatory's 10th anniversary, he's doing a sort of "back to the roots tribute," creating a piece of the Amazon Jungle. Stewart went to Peru last summer to do research.
There will be soup called Inchipapi, made from cassava and a little coriander -- Stewart's addition will be a garnish of roasted ants, which taste "a little nutty with a lot of neat aroma." And there will be pizza, which is certainly not a tradition in the Amazon, so Stewart will add a topping of scorpions, roasted and ground, to make this pizza "really crunchy."

"I roast the scorpions and grind them, but I'm careful to leave a few chunks in there deliberately. They have a smoky, earthy flavor like bacon," he adds.

Of course, it's not all that easy. "You have to know what you are doing," says Stewart. "Not all scorpions are edible, and you have to remove the little venom sack before you cook."

And, lest we forget, the menu concludes with Brazil Nut Beetle Bonbons -- "My own cultural inspiration." Samples and recipes will be available and, yes, shopping could be a problem. You may not be able to get all your ingredients at the local grocery store. Stewart's supplies come from South America, Africa, the UK and Thailand.

Eating insects, for those in crossword mode, is known as entomophagy. Stewart's demos -- he's been doing them in various places for six years or so -- always attract a lot of interest.

TV's "Fear Factor" may have something to do with it. Adults eat his foods because they are curious, he says. Or even as a sort of therapy.

"People trying to get over phobias," he explains.

And though he agrees that entomophagy is "not quite McDonald's" and may never become mainstream, Stewart is quick to cite its advantages. "Most insects are good protein sources and low-fat," he points out," and they leave a lot less of an environmental footprint than cattle, too."

Kids, as you might expect, are big fans. Stewart, who lives in Niagara Falls, Ont., has three children, ages 8, 6, and 4, and they are as adventurous as their father. "They haven't acquired any fears as yet," he explains.

His youngest daughter is the real enthusiast. "At Christmastime, she asked me if we were going to have the Cricket Candy we've had in previous years," he said. "It so happened that we didn't this year. And you know what?

"She was really disappointed."

The Bug-a-licious International Insect Festival will be held from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the the Butterfly Conservatory, 2405 Niagara River Parkway, Niagara Falls, Ont. Adult admission is $11 Canadian for adults; $6.50 for children 6 to 12; and free for children under 5.

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