In his tiny kitchen, chef Thitiwat Tantragarn throws a handful of raw bamboo caterpillars into a hot skillet and sautés them with olive oil, paprika, cumin, salt and pepper. Seconds later, the cream-colored larvae are crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. Tantragarn adds white wine, then spoons the bugs, brown beady eyes and all, over grilled scallops and Jerusalem artichokes before sending the plate out to the dining room.
In Thailand, it’s not hard to find ant eggs, crickets and bamboo worms at markets and restaurants if you know where to look. But Insects in the Backyard is the only fine dining establishment in Thailand where the entire menu is devoted to bugs. The worms, crickets, grasshoppers, beetles and caterpillars here are paired with less intimidating grains, seafood and vegetables, “so it’s not too scary for people who want to try our food,” says Tantragarn.
Tantragarn, 30, didn’t grow up eating insects in his native Bangkok. He trained in Thai and American kitchens, learning to make high-end Italian, French and New American cuisine. But Tantragarn switched gears because the world is now, as he puts it, in crisis: “The human population is growing but we don’t have enough protein. So we need to find a source of protein that can sustain humans.”