The annual gala dinner of the Explorers Club is no dainty affair.It’s a black tie event, but that’s about it as far as niceties are concerned. As you’re about to see for yourself, guests of this bizarre dinner gleefully sink their teeth into live tarantulas, tear the heads off exotic roaches, nib on succulent cow’s eyeballs and snack on battered monkey’s hands. Not really the kind of things ordinary people usually get dressed up for, but then again, Explorers aren’t exactly ordinary. These are people who have traversed the Earth in various expeditions of exploration, who love to discover new and fascinating things, even when it comes to food. This annual gala gives most of them a chance to try obscure dishes, even if they aren’t the most appetizing in the world.
At the gala, the highlight is the cocktail hour, when the finger food might have fingers of its own. Along with legs, hands, a face, tails, and sometimes, if you’re very lucky, even a tongue. Extreme is the only word that comes to mind when describing this unique cuisine. But the horrors are not limited to the dining hall alone; the true beauties can be viewed in the kitchens, where exotic creatures are brought in live from all over the world. Under the tutelage of exotic chef Gene Rurka, the chefs try out new recipes involving a few ‘surprises’ like pretzels made out of snails. Not all the chefs are very excited about handling the goods, though. Especially when chef Rurka opens a box of Madagascar cockroaches, you can see some of the chefs and managers recoil with fear and disgust. But others just want to know if the roaches are tasty.
Bags of eyeballs and testicles are prepared for poaching, roasting and stuffing. Reptile jaws of varying sizes can be found backstage as well. The tarantulas are steeped in brandy for 20 minutes, skewered, battered, and deep-fried. The oil is hot enough so that when the creatures are dipped in, they die instantly. There’s no way you want to serve up something that will begin to crawl once it hits the tongue. The chefs work themselves up in a frenzy, while transforming roaches, rodents and reptiles into culinary art. “If you design it properly, it looks appetizing,” says chef Rurka. “It’s no longer the creature that everyone wants to step on and run away from.” So you get masterpieces like sushi with crickets, worm-filled puff pastry, and eyeball appetizers.
The evening is a true test of the courageous palette, and unfortunately, not all the guests pass when they come face-to-face with their food, quite literally. It is not uncommon to find a few guests gagging on their food here and there. But mostly, you could hear comments like, “outstanding!” or “surprisingly succulent.” “The whole idea is to bring smiles to people’s faces, and we’ve done it,” says chef Rurka. Well, look again, chef. Not everyone’s smiling.