What do fathers like to do on Father’s Day? Go to the Atlanta Botanical Garden and eat bugs, weeds, and flowers of course! With the adventurous eating theme in the Edible Garden, there was only one person in Atlanta that we trusted to cook bizarre delicacies: Chef Ryan Cobb. Beginning a relationship with the Garden in 2007 as the bug chef during Big Bugs and Killer Plants, Ryan cooked mealworms, crickets, and scorpions in such a way that made people rush for a sample. Chef Ryan has been the Executive Chef at the Colonnade Restaurant for almost four years now. In addition to being in the AJC over a dozen times, he has appeared on 11Alive news, The Food Network, The Travel Channel, and PBS. We hope that Chef Ryan will soon demonstrate his fine dining background coupled with classical southern cuisine in the Outdoor Kitchen sans bugs. As today’s guest blogger, Chef Ryan comments on his Father’s Day experience and shares a few recipes.
This was my first visit to the Garden since Big Bugs and Killer Plants. Wow! What amazing changes at the Garden! First of all, I was to cook in the new Outdoor Kitchen in the Edible Garden. This kitchen is beautiful and well appointed. It had everything I needed to cook bugs, flowers, weeds, or a four course fine dining meal. In previous years, I had prepared food in the Children's Amphitheater. I was faced with the challenge of preparing food for large crowds on two portable electric burners! That would not be the case this time around!
Despite intense heat and humidity, there was a large crowd forming for the first show of the day. I chose to cook bugs for the first show and I whipped up three tasty dishes joined with a fact filled presentation on edible insects. Today I was preparing Crickets and Grits, Meal Worm Peanut Brittle, and Low Country BBQ'd Hissing Cockroaches. At the end of the show, I had convinced a large portion of the crowd to come up and try some bugs; I actually ended up running out of the cockroaches at the end of the day!
Low Country BBQ'd Hissing Cockroaches awaiting the grill
Shortly after the first show, I jumped into a kudzu and edible flowers presentation. Starting with kudzu, I challenged the crowd to "eat the vine that ate the South!!!” After a short description on kudzu, I prepared Stuffed Kudzu Leaves and Tempura Fried Kudzu Leaves. These two dishes were easy sells, and most of the crowd tasted one or both of them. Immediately, I switched gears and started an edible flower demonstration. The flowers at the show today consisted of: Orchids, Chrysanthemums, Snap Dragons, Marigolds, and Chamomile. With this medium, I prepared Caramelized Orchids, Orchid and Aspic Glazed Brie Cheese, Flower Petal Ice Cubes, and Flower Tea. Once again, there was little fear factor in eating flowers and the crowd ate them up!
Orchid and Aspic Glazed Brie Cheese
All in all, on a hot humid day, there were large crowds of people eagerly awaiting the opportunity to try new and different types of cuisine. I think everyone in attendance learned something too!!!
12 edible orchids
2 egg whites
1/4 cup superfine sugar
Carefully rinse and dry all of the flowers, set on a paper towel, and allow to dry. Separately, vigorously whisk egg whites together adding a touch of cool water if the egg whites need to be thinned to a brushable texture. Carefully brush egg white mixture onto all parts of the flower. Immediately dust, by hand, with the sugar. Place on a wire rack and allow to dry and harden at room temperature overnight. Enjoy as a colorful garnish!
Caramelized Orchids on far right
Clear Meal Worm Brittle
500 meal worms, dry roasted
8 cups sugar
1 cup water
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
2 oz. unsalted butter
Combine sugar, water, and cream of tartar in a heavy bottomed, non reactive saucepan. Over low heat, stir until all ingredients are incorporated and dissolved. Increase heat to medium high and bring to hard boil. Place a candy thermometer in mixture and cook until 320 F (light caramel stage). Remove from heat and quickly, with an oiled wooden spoon, incorporate the meal worms and butter. Carefully pour mixture onto a lightly oiled baking sheet and spread to 1/4 inch thick. Allow to cool completely then break into desired size pieces. Store in an airtight container in between wax or parchment paper.
Showcasing the farm-to-table concept of cultivating and consuming fresh, local and sustainably-grown food, the Edible Garden project not only returns the 1-acre asphalt parking lot to green space but also demonstrates that fruits and vegetables make beautiful landscape plants.
The garden includes an Outdoor Kitchen where Atlanta's top chefs will present cooking demonstrations using garden ingredients. On weekends, the Garden Chef demonstrates seasonal recipes using ingredients harvested straight from the Edible Garden. And, as for those leftovers go, any food not used in educational programs will be donated to local charities.