Laurent Veyet’s tasting menu is not for the faint-hearted, but may point to the future of feeding a booming world population: prawn salads with yellow mealworm and crunchy insects on beds of vegetables.
Veyet grows his mealworms on-site, feeding them porridge oats and vegetables. They die naturally after four months to a year, at which point, they are collected to be cooked.
As the sun bathed the re-opened outdoor restaurant terraces in Paris, Veyet’s ornate dishes were winning approving nods and murmurs of satisfaction from his adventurous clientele.
“It’s the ideal dish for first-timers,” the Parisian chef said, preparing a serving of pasta made with mealworm flour, sweet potato and sauteed insect larvae. “There are some really interesting flavours. Not many people could say they don’t like that.”
The European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) in January deemed the mealworm fit for human consumption and in May approved it to be sold on the market. The agency has fielded more than a dozen applications for insect-based food products, including crickets and locusts.
Mealworms, and insects more generally, could offer a sustainable and low carbon-emission food source for the future.
Dining with his two daughters, Soheil Ayari gave his endorsement: “I feel like I am in a traditional restaurant except the appearance of what I’m eating is different. And honestly, the tastes are very similar (to regular food).
Ayari’s young daughter was equally positive: “It’s environmentally friendly and what’s more, it’s good.”
While the mealworm may look like an unappetising maggot, it is in fact the larvae of the darkling beetle, rich in protein, fat and fibre.
A surprisingly versatile ingredient, the mealworm can be used whole in curries or salads, or ground down to make flour pasta, biscuits or bread.
“Insects are nutritious,” said Stefan De Keersmaecker, a health and food safety spokesman at the European Commission, “they can really help us switch to a more healthy and sustainable diet and food system.”
For Veynet, the challenge is two-fold: winning over public opinion and learning how to match the insects’ taste with other foods.
“You have to find the right flavours, the right accompaniments. All that is fascinating, any chef will tell you the same,” he said.