THE PREP LINE: Junebugs, three ways.
This summer, I ate a junebug. Actually, I ate three junebugs, prepared three different ways. On November 18 at 10 pm, Andrew Zimmern and his Bizarre Foods show on the Travel Channel will show the world what we've known in Portland for some time: Our local chefs are kind of crazy.
The episode was inspired by the "Deathmatch" dinner parties you've heard so much about, which are multi-course gatherings of local chefs, professional and amateur, who prepare dishes based around a food theme (see "Celebrating the Deerly Departed," by Leischen Stelter, October 26, 2007). Past themes have ranged from foie gras and venison dishes to, most recently, "grow, kill, and forage," where chefs had to either raise, slaughter, or find each ingredient for their course.
For the Travel Channel episode, the theme was obvious: bizarre. And the more bizarre, the better. Zimmern travels the world seeking out the most bizarre foods he can find. He has eaten everything — giant flying ants in Uganda, raw camel kidneys in Ethiopia. Frankly, his show isn't exactly appetizing.
That didn't stop Portland chefs, however, from keeping things all kinds of Pine Tree State. Of the 10 participating chefs, Team Wyatt, brother-sister duo Colin and Bronwen Wyatt of Five Fifty-Five, stayed most true to the Maine theme, preparing coffee brandy whoopie pies with Moxie marshmallow filling. Stephen Benenson, co-owner of One Longfellow Square and amateur chef, offered an elegant preparation of fresh Maine oysters, pickled ramp puree topped with rosa rugosa, making for a delicious slurp of Maine. However, the hands-down winner (which was actually determined by secret ballot, at the producer's instruction) was by Kate Squibb and Josh Potocki of One Fifty Ate: Junebug Three Ways. Squibb collected the junebugs herself off her back porch; removed the exoskeleton, wings, and legs; and used her grandmother's barbecue recipe to prepare the first part of the course: skewered junebugs. To wash it down, they concocted the "June-nipper," a lime vodka gimlet rimmed with toasted junebug, dried juniper berries, and Maine sea salt.
And for the final course, Squibb scavenged junebug larvae among leaf debris and stuffed them into fresh-made malt balls. Delicious.
Zimmern had no problem putting down all three junebug preparations. He eagerly moved from table to table, along with a camera crew and group of TV-eager Portlanders, sampling the best of Maine's bizarre offerings.
The bizarreness wasn't only in the food, though. "Deathmatch" parties normally feature an overcrowded kitchen with chefs vying for open burners, music literally rocking the house, and wine flowing freely. This time, all the food and equipment was loaded onto a 40-foot boat and brought "to an undisclosed island." Once on the island, chefs set up their tables with television-appropriate blue and green neon tablecloths (which caused a bit of a stir: the production crew underestimated the weight chefs put on presentation). Luckily, restaurant folks are well practiced in the art of adaptation and despite the stiff vibe created by television cameras and producer-prompted mingling scenes, this Deathmatch remained true to its origins: Only the strong survive.