I am a big fan of entomophagy (human consumption of insects) so I was keen to visit ‘México by Kitchen Theory’, a pop up dining experience like no other, tucked away in Maida Hill, London.
While in the West the notion of eating insects makes most people squeamish, around 2 billion people in the world already eat insects as part of their everyday diet. Could insects be part of the solution to fighting hunger and easing the world food crisis? The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the UN certainly likes to think so.
There are 1,900 edible species of insect representing an incredible food resource with 40 tons of insects available for every person on the planet. Many insects are rich in protein and good fats and high in calcium, iron and zinc. They are about 20 times more efficient than beef at producing body mass. Insects could be the ultimate sustainable food source as they reproduce rapidly, are fast growing (crickets only take 45 days from egg to fully adult size), require little water or food and produce low CO2 emissions. Sustainable insect farming might provide a stable low cost protein source and a steady income for poorer Asian countries. (source: FAO)
The protagonists of Kitchen Theory are chef and gastronaut Jozef Youssef (who worked at the Fat Duck and Helene Darrouze at the Connaught) and Professor Charles Spence, head of the cross-modal research laboratory of Oxford University. Wanting us to rethink the way we eat, this unique collaboration was born in 2011 between chef and science.
When I first heard about Kitchen Theory I was instantly seduced by their concept: “What we have in store for our guests is a refined modernist interpretation of Mexican ingredients and gastronomy. We want to enlighten our guests as to what modern day México signifies; its cuisine, art and the rich cultural culinary history,” says Youssef.
After a quick detour to Portobello Market, my friend and I arrived at Kitchen Theory just before 1pm. We were greeted by two charming hostesses including Lulu Youssef. Cocktails in hands, we were shown to the dining area, a minimalist room where a few tables are lined up together.
Each course was introduced by our hostess Lulu Youssef, while on the screen we learned more about Mexican culture, mythology, ingredients, heritage and insects.
Our menu included:
The Holy Trinity – corn, beans, cuitlacoche, chilli
El Chapulín Colorado – cuitlacoche, hearts of palm, octopus, chapulines, cucumber, jalapeno, aguachile, avocado, tostadas
An Offering for the Gods – venison, mole negro, pumpkin, Mexican spiced worm, burnt tortilla
Vanilla and the bee – honey, vanilla, bee pollen, cinnamon, camomile
Sensory pieces were spread around the table and we were asked to experience with textures, smell etc.. to see if it altered our sense of taste.
Through his work Professor Spence has shown that the colour of a plate can influence how sweet we perceive a dish to be. Also touching rougher textures such as sandpaper bring out saltiness in a dish. Could sensory influences help alter food consumption? Neurogastronomy (as it is called) opens a lot of possibilities on how we may be able to solve some of our food related health issues.
‘México by Kitchen Theory’ is a journey of discovery, a multi sensory experience where modernist cuisine meets science, meets sustainability.
An expert in molecular gastronomy, Jozef Youssef has managed to integrate flavours and texture to create a unique menu. To highlight sustainability, insects are on the menu but not in the obvious form you might expect. Most are disguised in powders and sauces. There is one chapulin (grasshopper) in its natural form.
You can eat that chapulin or not, it is up to you. I happily chewed on mine. My dinner companion was a bit less enthusiastic but ate hers in the end. I would actually have liked to see more insects on my plate but I can imagine I am probably in a minority here.
We truly enjoyed our food. Each dish was beautifully presented. Each ingredient on our plate had a role to play and it all blended perfectly.
Thinking back to our lunch, I realised that if insects are to be more present in our diet, then flours and powders are certainly the best option for occidental mindsets.
There is no silver bullet in solving our current food crisis but entomophagy certainly has a role to play. This is why projects such as ‘México by Kitchen Theory’ are so important. Raising awareness, enabling the conversation while offering to people an unforgettable dining experience. It’s the must-try pop-up kitchen of the Autumn.