The restaurant was opened by Gourmet Grubb, a company that has already introduced Cape Town to dairy-free ice cream made from insect milk. The insect-inspired meals are designed by chef Mario Barnard, who first started cooking with bugs after a trip to Thailand where he was encouraged to eat tarantulas and scorpions. “They were a little bit hard for me to eat. But, since I started experimenting with [insect-based] powders and messing with the food and hiding in it in a kind of gourmet way, I’ve found its a much easier way to eat,” said Barnard in an interview.
Barnard works with Mopane worms which are a traditional snack in South Africa. He also works with mealworms and the black soldier fly larvae. The insects are made into dishes such as: mopane worm polenta fries, black fly larvae chickpea croquettes paired with a mopane hummus and topped off with a sprinkle of dried mealworms, Gourmet Grubb ice-cream partly made using ground up insects, and deep-fried dark chocolate black fly larvae ice cream.
In general, insects are really high in protein and fat and comparable to red meat in their protein and fat content. The insects they use at The Insect Experience – the black soldier fly larvae – are much higher in zinc, iron and calcium than beef. Co-founder and head of product development Leah Bessa has been investigating insects as a viable protein substitute. According to her, the insects are also high in dietary fibre and have no carbohydrate value. The insects are bred by two local farmers and delivered to the restaurant.
“I chose these dishes for introducing insects to people because they’re already familiar with them — everyone knows polenta fries and croquettes,” he said.
The Insect Experience is currently a pop-up restaurant and Barnard plans to make it “standalone fine dining establishment”.