Chefs and culinary arts students worked together to create exotic dishes and to help bring the theme of Halloween alive Oct. 27 at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University’s “Cuisine from the Collections” cocktail party.
Exotic dishes were created in accordance with the museum’s various exhibits. With more than 18 million plant and animal specimens found in the Academy’s research collection and used by scientists and researches around the world, the event highlighted some of these specimens, incorporating unique foods found all around the world to go with the Halloween theme.
“The idea was that [the Academy] would do an event [with] cuisine based on the collection … of [their] natural items: birds, reptiles, bears, minerals, and almost everything on the planet,” Edward Bottone, a culinary arts chef, said, “[The Drexel chefs] would pick some of the more [interesting] items that are in the collection and make dishes out of them. Some of [the dishes] would be more outrageous than repugnant and scary — because it was close to Halloween — and some of them would be a little bit more mainstream.”
Culinary chefs Chuck Ziccardi and Adrienne Hall also created dishes for the event.
The Drexel chefs met with the Academy scientists and created their own signature dishes that would be served the night of the event, with each dish made in accordance with a different display.
Bottone, sitting across from a versatile collection of shells from around the world, made a sea snail ragout that was full of welk, periwinkles and other snails in a rich, savory tomato sauce, studded with capers and pasta shells. Ziccardi made a cornmeal-crusted python with mango and persimmon, which was very well-received and ran out by the end of the night.
“Everyone was very interested in having a little piece of snake,” Bottone said. On his own dish, Bottone said, “Some people would come up and say, ‘Oh, I’m not a snail person,’… or they would joke and say, ‘No, I’ve already had my snails for the day.’ But lots of people tried it, and everybody who tried it seemed to really like it.”
Hall created a dish of large crudite with a variety of herbs, tubers and vegetables, as well as a cricket dip using whole crickets. Hall also created a vegetarian-friendly option, which included feta dip with dates, sun-dried tomatoes, herbs and black olives.
The Drexel students who volunteered at the event were sophomores Kaitlyn Hoefert, Noah Williams and Ally Zeitz, along with seniors Nina Melisi and Courtney Wittek, all culinary arts majors. They helped the chefs prepare side dishes and volunteered at different tasting stations throughout the night, including the Salt Tasting Bar and the Epicurean Chefs’ Challenge, two of the many activities offered that night.
“The event went well,” Williams said. “The most interesting thing I saw that night was how nervous people were to try certain things. People were very hesitant to eat the dip once they found out it had crickets in it. … We left them whole. It really wasn’t bad at all, just added textures.”
Not all of the food was as exotic. Susana Foo and 12th Street Catering were among other caterers who brought additional dishes to the event. Trays of the food were set up by the Academy’s scientists and displayed around selected specimens from their upper-floor collections. The exhibits took a piece of history and incorporated a dish that tied into the theme.
Some of the exhibits included the skull of a bison shot by William “Buffalo Bill” Cody during the Sioux uprising of 1890-91, which was positioned near a bowl of Buffalo Chili. Near the sea snail ragout and sushi, specimens of snails, scallops, sea urchins and “Walter,” the fan-favorite octopus, were found in a big jar. A variety of crickets, larvae and moths could be found near the dips with insects, and the venison sausage was stationed near deer antlers.
Because of the Halloween theme, guests could either dress up in costume or cocktail dress and could dance to the music played to accompany the food.
“Some were in costume,” Bottone said, “Those who came in fancy dress brought masks and headgear to embellish whatever they showed up in. That was fun.”
When asked if there will be another ‘Cuisine from the Collections,’ Bottone said, “I’m looking forward to it. I know it is going to be an annual event. I know that Drexel will be involved in it, and next year it’ll be more expansive. … I think it’ll be a popular annual event.”