Poutine with fried bamboo worms
Poutine with fried bamboo worms Credit: Julia Thiel

The Chef: Luke Creagan (Pops for Champagne)

The Challenger: Shin Thompson (Bonsoiree)

The Ingredient: Bamboo worms

Bamboo worms aren’t the easiest ingredient to track down, as Luke Creagan discovered. He found them on a website that sells edible insects, but then learned delivery would take up to a month. While he continued to search, he talked to Shin Thompson, who’d assigned him the ingredient. “He’s like, if you can’t find the bamboo worms, I’m cool with earthworms,” Creagan said. “I was like, great . . . a bigger version of crap.”

Creagan finally located bamboo worms at a Pennsylvania bait shop and ordered a case. The cans of precooked worms were labeled Not For Human Consumption, so Creagan called the bait shop to ask if it was safe to eat them. He was told the label was for safety, “so people don’t sit there and eat ’em like crazy. I was like, I don’t think anyone would.”

Pops for Champagne chef Luke Creagan
Pops for Champagne chef Luke CreaganCredit: Julia Thiel

Creagan certainly doesn’t recommend eating the worms raw. He tried it, and says he had to spit them out. “I can stomach any alcohol out there. Malort, I’ll just be like, mmm, that’s pretty darn good. But then when it comes to these bamboo worms, they just tasted like ammonia. They promised there was nothing added, but that’s just how they taste, I guess.”

The general manager of Pops for Champagne tasted the worms at the same time Creagan did, and they both went straight for the trash can, Creagan said. “And then I look over at one of my cooks, and he’s like, ‘Pretty good, yeah. I kind of like it.’ True story. He’s sitting there like, ‘Can I have another one?'”

While Creagan disagreed with the cook on the palatability of the raw worms, he found them much more appealing fried. That’s how bamboo worms are usually served in Thailand, where they’re common as street food. He coated them in potato starch before frying, and said they tasted a lot like potato skins. “It’s just hollow—shatters in your mouth. It’s actually kind of a cool texture.”

Creagan put the fried worms in a poutine, just because he likes cheese curds and thought the combination would make the worms more appealing. He dehydrated onion, garlic, and fresh dill and mixed it with panko, cornstarch, and flour for a ranch coating on the curds, and fried them up along with the worms and french fries. Creagan says he considered cutting the fries to the same size as the bamboo worms and putting little rings in them so they’d be harder to tell apart. “And then I was like, that’s pretty stupid. I’m not going to do that. . . . Which one’s which? You can tell, trust me. The french fries don’t have eyes on them.”

Credit: Julia Thiel

Rather than pouring the gravy—made with demi-glace, red wine, mushrooms, and smoked Dijon—over the dish, Creagan served it on the side as a dipping sauce (along with the smoked Dijon), opting to avoid the gloppy mess that poutine generally turns into. As for the bamboo worms: “They’re fine when they’re fried, if you can get past the fact that you’re eating a worm. And by fine, I mean—they really are a lot better than they are canned.”

Creagan wasn’t impressed enough with the worms to put them on his menu, though he said he might continue to experiment with them since he has a lot left over. “If someone comes in and asks, I’ve got cans of them, and if you’re crazy, I’ll fry some up for you. I’ll give you some good sauce so you can forget about the fact that you’re eating worms.”

Who’s Next:

Dirk Flanigan of Henri and the Gage, working with sugarcane. Creagan says that a few years ago he picked some up and he and his cooks played around with it, thinking they might hit on something good—”but we really couldn’t come up with anything. That’s the main reason I was excited to pass this along to somebody else. See if someone else’s brain can be picked.”

YouTube video

Video by Michael Gebert/Sky Full of Bacon

Bamboo-Worm Poutine

Smoked Dijon Gravy
1 cup Dijon mustard
2 cups mesquite wood chips
1 shallot, sliced thin and lightly coated in olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, smashed
1 sprig of thyme
1 T flat parsley leaves
2 cups veal demi-glace
¼ t porcini mushroom powder
¼ cup cabernet sauvignon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Soak the wood chips in warm water for at least 30 minutes, then drain. In a six-inch hotel pan or other suitable pan, pan roast the chips until they begin to smoke, not steam. Place the Dijon and shallots in separate small shallow stainless steel pans. Place a roasting rack or perforated pan of the same size as the smoking pan over the chips, then put the Dijon and the shallots in the center of the top pan. Turn heat to low-medium so as not to burn the chips or create too much heat, which will cook or break the mustard. Cover the pans tightly with foil and smoke for 20 minutes, stirring every five minutes.

For the sauce, begin by briefly sauteeing the smoked shallots, then toast the garlic slightly. Add the thyme, parsley, porcini powder, and a tablespoon plus a teaspoon of the smoked Dijon, until they are incorporated together. Deglaze pan with wine and reduce until dry. Add demi-glace and reduce sauce on low simmer until it can coat the back of a spoon. Be careful not to season too heavily in the beginning as you can always add, but you can’t take away. Strain sauce through a fine mesh strainer and keep warm.

2 oz can of bamboo worms, cooked in salt and water with no preservatives (preservatives will affect the frying process) and drained
1 Idaho potato, peeled and cut into matchsticks
¼ cup potato starch
8-10 fresh cheddar curds
2 T cornstarch
1 egg, beaten, with a splash of water added
½ cup panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
1 t onion powder
¼ t garlic powder
1 T nonfat yogurt powder
2 t finely chopped fresh dill
1 t chopped fresh thyme
2 t brown butter
1 t shredded Pecorino cheese
½ t finely chopped chives

Place cornstarch in one bowl, egg in another, and panko, onion powder, garlic powder, yogurt powder, and chopped dill in the last bowl. In that order, coat cheese completely and then place into a 375-degree fryer until golden brown. Dredge worms and potato matchsticks into potato starch to coat, then shake off excess before frying. When worms and fries are at desired color, remove and season with salt and add chopped fresh thyme, brown butter, and Pecorino cheese. Assemble curds/worms/frites and present with smoked Dijon and the smoked Dijon gravy on the side. Try to enjoy—after all, you are eating worms.