The atmosphere is charged at Margaret River Gourmet Escape, but it’s not the blazing sun that has observers fanning themselves.
Chef Matt Stone is in the midst of his cooking demonstration and he is poaching crickets in butter, folding them into a savoury pancake mixture with wild weeds, including dandelion and spring onion.
“The simplest way to cook [crickets] is to deep fry them and hit them with a lovely seasoning,” Stone explains. “But for pancakes, you just poach them in butter so they won’t be crunchy, then fold them through the pancake mix.”
To date, Stone has only dished up crickets for his mates while he waits for approval from health inspectors to put them on the menu at groundbreaking Melbourne restaurant, Silo by Joost.
“I’m working on a system of producing bugs and insects from leftover food from plates in the cafe, which is very exciting,” Stone says. “I’ve got crickets, mealworms and wood roaches. I feel it is really important to make this work. I’m not doing it to be weird or cool. It’s the nutritional and sustainable angle.”
It is estimated insects form part of the traditional diets of at least two billion people and that more than 1900 species are used for food. According to a report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the environmental benefits of rearing insects for food are founded on the high feed efficiency of insects.
Crickets, for example, require only two kilograms of feed for every one kilogram of bodyweight gain. They can be reared on organic waste and help reduce environmental contamination as they are believed to emit fewer greenhouse gases and less ammonia than cattle or pigs, and require significantly less land and water.
Insects are also a highly nutritious and healthy food source with high fat, protein, vitamin, fibre and mineral content. Stone is a fan of eating insects for all of these reasons.
“In continents such as South America, Asia and Africa it’s completely common. It’s just Western culture that goes, ‘ooh, it’s a bug, I don’t want to eat that.’ But a prawn is the same thing but from the ocean, and an oyster is a filter of the sea floor and they are both delicacies,” he says.
If anyone is going to get the message across, it’s Stone. His influence in culinary circles has risen rapidly since he dropped out of school and began washing dishes for a living. Now in business with his mentor, Joost Bakker (founder of Perth’s eco-conscious restaurant Greenhouse), Stone has already won many awards and has also starred in his own cooking show, Recipes That Rock, with Blur bass guitarist and cheesemaker Alex James.
At Silo, which is 100 per cent waste free, Stone has set some “hard boundaries” to cook by. Milk is delivered in 20 litre vats straight from the dairy, and produce comes in reusable crates.
The restaurant also roasts its own coffee, an ethical blend that Stone sourced himself from South America, which is stored in sealed tins.
As for his growing list of accolades, Stone considers himself lucky.
“It’s lovely to be recognised for just doing what you love.”
He and Bakker are currently working to “revolutionise and change the way the hospitality industry thinks”, with plans to create a sizeable urban rooftop farm above a restaurant, along with an educational space for children, in Melbourne.
“I feel obliged to educate; my role in the industry isn’t just what I’m going to put on a plate but how the food comes to us and, most importantly, what happens afterwards,” he says.