Hudswell pub’s noma link plus eating ants and other insects

In an unlikely piece of foodie news, North Yorkshire’s first community pub – the lovely George and Dragon in Hudswell – is apparently to get some influence from ‘the world’s best restaurant’, Copenhagen’s noma.

Better known for its Sunday roasts and Fijian curries, the pub that’s often featured on the television show The Dales has a new landlord and the Danish influence comes in the shape of a relative who works at the renowned restaurant.

Talking to the Darlington and Stockton Times,new landlord Stuart Miller, a chef with 45 year’s experience, revealed that he will be also assisted by brother Sam, who is currently sous chef at renowned Copenhagen restaurant.

What the reporter didn’t ask was whether the menu was likely to include their famous insect garnish. When noma put on a series of meals in London, the sell out events served up ants. The ants were served on a cabbage leaf drizzled with crème fraiche, and reportedly have a flavour of lemongrass after being anesthetized with cold before being eaten. Also included in the meal was edible soil with radishes buried in hazelnut, malt, rye, beer and butter with a layer of creme fraiche.

More than 20,000 ants were imported for the twenty scheduled meals that sold out in two hours at $306 a seat!

The topic of insect eating has also been looming large on Contributoria, the journalism platform I’m editor of.

Writer Rich McEachran considers our revulsion at the idea in the article I’ve posted below. (Articles on Contributoria are published with a non-commercial share and attribution licence so that blogs such as this can syndicate great pieces like this at no charge).

Can we learn to love eating insects?
By Rich McEachran

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© Six Foods: the start-up’s tortilla-style crisps are made with cricket flour

“I am confident that on finding out how good they are, we shall some day right gladly cook and eat them”, said Vincent Holt in his 1885 manifesto Why not eat insects?.

Eating insects is nothing new. Raw or cooked, they’ve long been part of staple diets, especially in South East Asia, China, Africa and Central and South America; crispy fried beetles are a popular street food in Thailand, while ant egg tacos is a popular dish in Mexico, as is roasted larvae served with guacamole.

By 2050, the world population is expected to rise to 9 billion. There are fears that this will lead to an increase in food shortages and world hunger. A report published last year by the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations suggested that more people should incorporate insects into their diets. It also encouraged the international community to see insects as a food for the future if it’s serious about improving food security.

Disgust the major hurdle

Two billion people already supplement their diet with insects. But a main hurdle in the west is that people can’t stomach the thought of eating something that they associate with living in the ground. According to Jonathan Fraser, one of the co-founders of Ento (short for entomophagy), a start-up in London that is cooking up sustainable foods using insects, eating is a sensory experience and involves a lot of seeing what’s placed in front of us and not as much thinking about it.

“Most of us are not used to seeing the animal we are about to eat, be it chicken or lamb or other livestock; but traditional ways of serving insects usually present it in its whole form – like grasshopper skewers in Thailand”, he says. “We simply don’t have the cultural heritage of eating insects … Instead the overwhelming preconception is of insects as pests. This underpins our taboo against eating them.”

Disgustologists – including Valerie Curtis, an expert on hygiene and behaviour at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine – believe our revulsion is partly rooted in human instinct to avoid disease and, ultimately, death. This disgust response is what has led the likes of Susana Soares, a designer and senior lecturer at London South Bank University, to explore the relationship between science and technology and find new ways to consume insects. Her project, Insects au gratin, uses 3D printing to design edible structures made out of dried bug powder – insects are ground down into a fine powder and then mixed with other food products, such as chocolate, spices and cream cheese; the resulting consistency is squeezed through a nozzle and printed into a desired design.

By creating tasty foods that embody the benefits of edible insects, we believe we can change people’s preconceptions and break down the prejudice. It happened with sushi, and it can happen with insects.
As Soares found through her research, it’s not just cultural backgrounds that might be alienating people from dining on insects; it’s the aesthetics of the dishes themselves. How the insects are presented is key to changing our palates, says Laura D’Asaro, co-founder of Six Foods, a Boston-based start-up that is turning bugs into snack foods and tasty treats, including crisps and cookies made with cricket flour.

D’Asaro and her team recognise that the presentation needs to be to insects what hot dogs and nuggets are to pigs and chickens.

“We actually started by cooking up insects whole and quickly discovered that although the insects tasted good, our friends were hesitant to try to say the least.”

D’Asaro continues: “The individual [ingredients] that go into these food products may cause a visceral feeling of disgust, but when they are presented in a form that is familiar and delicious, Americans welcome the foods into their diet … Adding insects to something familiar like chips makes insects accessible, and people have been remarkably open and excited to try our Chirps (author’s note: Six Foods’ range of tortilla-style crisps).”

Curing caterpillars like bacon

The start-up recently raised more than $70,000 through Kickstarter with the help of nearly 1,300 backers. The success of the crowdfunding campaign shows the potential to win people over and educate them on insects’ nutritional value.

Ento has taken a similar approach to cooking with insects. Recipe experiments include cured honeycomb caterpillars, using a similar process to curing bacon. The mission is to open a restaurant and get insect ready meals on supermarket shelves.

“We fundamentally believe in being honest about what ingredients we use, but we also believe the best way for consumers to accept insects as food is to serve dishes where the insects are not visible”, says Fraser. “We combine insects with complementary ingredients, and present them in abstracted formats (such as pâté and croquettes), to make foods that are delicious and familiar to UK eaters.”

Efficient conversion into protein

Start-ups like Ento and Six Foods may have a hard time converting everyone, but the potential environmental benefits are intriguing. As Holt pointed out in his manifesto, “insects are all vegetable feeders, clean, palatable, wholesome, and decidedly more particular in their feeding than ourselves”. Insects are tremendously efficient at converting vegetation into edible protein. They are cold-blooded so don’t have to waste energy keeping their bodies warm.

“They are a source of animal protein like any other livestock. And they have numerous advantages over the animals we currently farm and eat. Take grasshoppers, for example, and compare them with beef cattle; you can get nine times as much meat for the same amount of food, due to their higher feed-conversion efficiency”, explains Fraser.

Insects also use less land and water than traditional livestock.

“It takes two thousand gallons of water to produce one pound of beef, but it only takes about one gallon of water to produce a pound of crickets”, D’Asaro adds.

The positive impact insects can have on the environment doesn’t end there. They emit around 1% of the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by cows and, unlike factory farming, insects can be “raised humanely in small spaces, without antibiotics or growth hormones”. This means that insects require very little upkeep.

A note of caution

With the possibility of being able to raise 1,000 crickets in a space of 1 sq ft, insects are both a cheaper and more efficient source of protein than a lot of meat and far more sustainable. Insects can boost the environment as well as diets. Still, there is reason to be cautious. Investment in insect farming in Africa is increasing, and there are concerns that if demand for insects grows then producers may be tempted to cut corners to keep costs low. Before this can even be a worry, entomophagy needs to be brought into the mainstream.

“Eating insects can be a quirk, a niche market”, says Josephine, a regular diner at an upscale restaurant in New York that has put them on the menu. “Diners come because they are intrigued. A lot will most likely try it once and then their interest will fade. They see insects as a novelty, rather than a nutritious lifestyle choice. We should be asking ourselves how we can get more people eating them and how we can make them more accessible, not simply why aren’t we eating them?”

If operations can be scaled up technologically and financially, start-ups like Ento and Six Foods may just help us learn to love eating insects.

“By creating tasty foods that embody the benefits of edible insects, we believe we can change people’s preconceptions and break down the prejudice,” says Fraser. “It happened with sushi, and it can happen with insects.”

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Six best places to eat in Richmond, North Yorkshire – updated for 2012

The first version of this blogpost was published in 2009 and has proved to be one of the most searched for things on this blog so I thought it was about time it got updated for 2012.
Taking into account some off the feedback, some re-visiting and some new ventures opening have led to this new version of the whistlestop tour.
1. Pub grub
Last time I recommended the Black Lion Hotel in Finkle street but I’ve updated this after a few disappointing meals there more recently. This year’s recommendation is the George and Dragon in Hudswell. Just a couple of miles out of town and well worth the trip, the community pub that’s found favour with the television programme makers and locals alike has got into its stride with the food. You’re unlikely to encounter much Fijian food in these parts so it’s worth trying out the specials for that experience. The chicken stir-fry with noodles or the fish with banana are both easy introductions to an unfamiliar cuisine. Call: 01748 518373. Map on n0tice.com.
2. Cafe
Last time I mentioned the Cross View Ream Rooms (which remains good for home-cooked food) but this time I’d like to recommend Deli 10. On Darlington road near the island for the Co-op, this small venue has a well thought out menu of freshly prepared sandwiches, panini and cakes. The homemade soup is always well seasoned and piping hot and the salads with an interesting selection of leaves, walnuts and olives drizzled (not drowned) with dressing. The always friendly service is another bonus in a town where surly teenage waiting staff are the norm. Call: 01748 822114.
rustique
Salmon fishcakes

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3. Fine dining

We’re still struggling in this category with the Frenchgate Restaurant and Hotel the only place coming close but…. of the two more casual dining places to open up in the past few years, Rustique in Chantry Wynd is worth a try. Aside from the cliche theming of the decor (cancan, chat noir etc.), the food on offer is well priced and well-cooked. The menu is very much on the traditional side of French – rich and buttery. The meat dishes are large and attention is paid to the customer’s cooking preferences. The pleasant service also adds to make for a relaxed evening out. Call: 01748 821565. Map on n0tice.com.

4. Smart lunch
Last time I mentioned the Seasons Restaurant at The Station which is OK as far as cafe style service and menus go but the other addition to the town which is worth a try is La Piazza 2. The stylish decor and prompt service have quickly made this into one of the busiest eateries. Basically pizza and pasta which are well done. My only criticism is the lack of any dinner salads (just rather a dull side salad) and the extremely costly soft drinks. Call: 01748 825008.

5. Take-away
The Delhi-cious kitchen made the list last time and is still working away to deliver curries across the town but I thought I’d make an addition for the town centre itself in this update – Shanghai City in the Market Place. With it’s hand-written menu additions scribbled on bags pinned up on the wall, perusing the choices can be a bit haphazard but worth struggling through. Although the main menu is fairly standard Cantonese stuff, these specials include items such as massive dishes of udon noodles cooked in your choice of sauce or salt and pepper squid from the Malaysian cook. Call: 01748 825955.

kingsheadhotel6. Missed opportunity
I’ve added this category in because of the disappointment first at the closure of the excellent Frenchgate cafe and also about the way the landmark King’s Head Hotel has proved to be in recent times. What a fabulous building, what lovely new decor and add to that the interesting menu and the selection of wines – this should be the jewel in crown for the town. Why then is it so often empty? Having seen people wait more than an hour to be handed a menu and then marching out in exasperation as teenage waitresses gossip ignoring their efforts to order or have the tables cleared – it’s not difficult to understand why. I seriously hope summer 2012 will see its return to form as well as the Frenchgate cafe finding a new owner.

The George and Dragon, North Yorkshire’s 1st community pub

After two years of fundraising and hard work, The George and Dragon in Hudswell has now reopened as North Yorkshire’s first community pub.

Locals raised £227,600 in a matter of weeks to purchase the property, and a £50,000 grant from North Yorkshire County Council further boosted the coffers.

And, according to the Facebook group set up to keep people in touch with what’s going on, not only has the hard work paid off but the venture is soon to be the subject of an ITV feature next January/February.

I went down to have a look recently and, of course, try out the food.

Before it closed, the pub was a popular place for excellent Sunday lunches which always had a wide range of vegetable accompaniments cooked in imaginative ways, but the décor left something to be desired being outdated and a bit dingy.

The first thing to notice is the general brightening up of the place, newly decorated and furnished plus the terrace out the back with its stunning views has been spruced up too…onto the food.

If I list some of the menu items you’ll get the idea of the style of the place – Whitby cod and chips, lasagne, bangers and mash and shortly there’s to be a special which is due to be either hotpot or shepherd’s pie. (Worth noting that there’s gluten-free bread on offer too.)

It’s traditional food, the sort of thing you might cook at home.

We went retro with a prawn cocktails, steak and veggie bangers. The best thing about the meal were the proper chips – all lovely and crisp and the properly cooked veg. It was a homecooked meal – nothing fancy but honest. And cheap.(Under £10 a head)

It’s probably not the sort of place that you’d get the car out and take a drive to just for the food, but then that’s not what this place is about.

The community pub is just that, a place for the local community to get together and enjoy a meal and a drink. Good luck to all involved – I’m certainly looking forward to repeat visits over the summer.

The George & Dragon Pub is at Hudswell, Richmond, North Yorkshire, DL11 6BL. Phone: 01748 518373.