Jose Guerrero enjoys eating bugs: crickets, grasshoppers, black ants, even scorpions.
“I'm Mexican, and I like having them in mole and eating them in chile,” says Guerrero, who runs the Pepe Warrior Food Truck. “It’s nothing new to me. It’s actually more of the norm.”
So when Denver Beer Co. head brewer Jason Buehler approached Guerrero a few months ago about a bug-and-beer pairing he wanted to host at DBC offshoot Cerveceria Colorado, Guerrero immediately said yes. “I’ve been wanting to work with him for a long time,” the chef notes.
The pairing, which takes place Saturday, November 2, isn’t the first beer-and-bug pairing for Cerveceria Colorado (or even in Denver; there have been several, believe it or not), but this year's version might be offering the best food.
A former executive chef at ViewHouse, a Food Network contestant and a longtime cook who has worked and lived everywhere from San Francisco to Singapore to Chicago to Mexico City, Guerrero has always focused on organic, locally sourced meats and produce, and on upscale technique, whether he’s making street tacos, roasted butternut-squash soup with thyme and toasted pumpkin seeds, or cricket salsa. So the pork in his green chile comes from Corner Post Meats in Black Forest, the base of his cheese sauce is a bechamel, and everything he makes is from scratch, including his crème fraîche.
And when it comes to cooking with insects, he takes the same approach.
“You can’t just fry them up, throw them on top and say ‘Shut the fuck up and eat it,’” he explains, noting the unavoidable “ick” factor when it comes to bugs. “You can’t do it with the fear factor or by shoving that visual grossness in people’s face. You have to find a gateway.”
Instead, he focuses on building flavors and ingredients into his dishes. For instance, the mole tostada with chorizo, tomatillo, carrots, apples and creamy jalapeño cotija cheese sauce will also have escamoles (ant larvae) and scorpions cooked into the dish. “When I think scorpion, I think sting, so this will have a little kick to it,” he says. It will be paired with Irreverente Sour, which Buehler and Cerveceria Colorado brewed in collaboration with Irreverente Brewing in Mexico City. The beer, light but tart, was made with puréed tomatillos, lime, cilantro and salt.
The other pairings are Critter Fritter sweet-potato falafels with creamy jalapeño tomatillo salsa with Venga! Mexican Lager; Pambaso inflada with chorizo, potatoes and cilantro with Horchata Blonde; and crispy taco brisket al pastor with black beans and peach with Cerveceria’s dark Rosita schwarzbier. There are insects in everything, but to find out which bugs are in which dishes, you’ll have to attend the event.
Buehler, who has traveled extensively in Mexico for work and vacations, says he's eaten and learned about many different edible insects over the years. "I personally crave the flavors of the gusanos de maguey [agave worms]. They have a fantastic earthy, roasted, toasted flavor that is fantastic in a taco. Truly a rare treat."
"I realize it's a little odd in the U.S., as eating insects is not a part of the culture here like it is in most parts of the world, but my eyes and mouth have been opened during my travels, and it's something we thought was important to share with others in the Denver area," he adds. "They are an amazing sustainable food source."
The bugs themselves are sourced from Colorado’s only insect farm, the Rocky Mountain Micro Ranch in Denver, which packages and supplies insects to a variety of stores and restaurants in the region.
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Guerrero says the ranch does a great job with its products. “I was really impressed with how bug-forward they were, but also how smoky and grainy and nutty they tasted in your mouth,” he says. My approach is avant-garde Mexican food, so I am focused on fattiness and fibers and crunchiness and how it works with other ingredients.”
The first thing he wants diners who try the bugs and beers to think is, “Wow, this could be a dish at any avant-garde restaurant I’ve ever been to." After that, he wants them to think, “Wow, that’s Instagrammable," then "Wow, that’s delicious," and then, "Are you sure there are bugs in here?”
If the event is a success, Guerrero says, he may add one of the dishes as a special in his food truck. He also hopes to host similar events — like cookies with bugs — at Cerveceria Colorado or elsewhere. "I hope this could spin off for a lot of other cool things. I think it will be the talk of the town," he says.
The beer-and-bugs pairing takes place at Cerveceria Colorado, 1635 Platte Street, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets are $25 and available at nightout.com.