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Utah food professionals reveal the 'scariest thing I ever ate'

Published October 31, 2013 9:38 am

Food • From pigs ears to calf brains, offal foods that aren't so bad.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The professional ghouls and the goblins that lurk in haunted houses know just how to scare us: chomp into some cooked brains, bloody eyeballs or slimy sea slugs.

Of course, outside the spook alleys people have actually eaten those inner body parts — and liked them.

We asked 10 Utah chefs, cooking instructors and restaurant owners to tell us the scariest thing they ever ate and if they'd eat it again.

Pigs ears • "We were visiting a winery in Valdeorras, Spain, and the owners took us to eat a huge meal at one of their favorite restaurants nearby," explained Scott Evans, owner of Pago and Finca restaurants in Salt Lake City. "There was a group of about eight of us and everything was served family style in large platters. The meal was actually outstanding, but the pigs ears were incredibly challenging to eat. Pigs ears can actually be enjoyable, particularly if they are fried or braised long enough. In this case, visually it looked like they took about 40 ears directly from the pigs and lightly cooked them in a tomato based sauce. After you get past the sight of a bowl of ears, you are then greeted with an impossible texture. It tasted as one would imagine it would taste if you attempted to eat the ear directly from the animal. Unbelievably chewy to the point where no matter how long or diligently you tried to break it into smaller pieces it did not budge. It was a regional delicacy and we did not want to be rude so we did our best to spread them around the plate to appear as if we had eaten more than we really had."

Corn fungus • "Huitlacoche, a fungus that grows on corn and is considered a delicacy in Mexico," said Victoria Topham, the chef/owner of Petite Feast. Pronounced weet-la-ko-chay, "It has a delicious mushroom-y flavor but a rather unusual texture and appearance. My husband and I frequently travel in Mexico. I am a big believer in eating 'what the locals eat' when I travel. When we were invited to the home of one of the employees of our hotel, we happily accepted. Mauricio's mother had prepared a feast for us and we were delighted to try everything she had made. One item was a quesadilla of huitlacoche and zucchini blossoms. They had an unusual appearance but smelled delightful. In many places huitlacoche is known as corn smut and is considered a disease that infects crops. But the Aztecs chose to treat it as a delicacy and I have to agree."

1,000-year-old egg • "I have always had a very open mind to trying new things so nothing really scares me," said Ethan Lappe, chef/owner of Cafe Nicche in Salt Lake City. "But in Culinary school in Napa we tried 1,000-year-old egg — they're not actually 1,000 years old that's just what they are called. They ferment the eggs under ground until the whites become black and the yolks become green. I liked them, they tasted like a regular hard-boiled egg. The only thing that bothers me about them is they are sold along side dry goods and not refrigerated."

Crickets and sea slugs • Lesli Sommerdorf, the culinary manager at the Sur La Table store in Salt Lake City, has eaten several funky things over the years including "caramelized teriyaki crickets that were delicious for dessert at a slip-of-a-sushi place in the East Bay in San Francisco; and sea slugs on a tiny island in Fiji. It was very slickery and I remember not liking it very much. It was served with white rice."

Raw horse meat • "I was living in Japan in a town called Matsumoto," said Jonas Otsuji, a Utah sushi chef and caterer and 2012 "Survivor" contestant. "I made it a point to ask locals what the most unique foods were. They kept telling me I had to try the raw horse meat. What? I finally worked up the courage to eat it. Thinly sliced horse sashimi served on a bed of daikon radish strings served with bowl of hot rice. It was almost like eating blue fin tuna sashimi, I dipped the deep red slices of raw horse meat and it into a soy sauce with freshly grated ginger. It was one of the best and definitely most memorable sashimi experiences I've ever had. Would I eat it again? Yeah if it were legal here in the U.S."

Kopi Luwak coffee • "Most recently we found Kopi Luwak coffee and served it at a SLC POP dinner," explained Katie Weinner, chef instructor, Art Institute Salt Lake City and Chef/Owner of SLC POP. "I just thought it was exotic coffee from South America. Then I Googled it……Wow! Kopi Luwak is made from coffee beans eaten, partly digested and then excreted by a weasel-like animal. 'Kopi,' the Indonesian word for coffee, along with 'luwak' is the local name of this animal, which eats the raw red coffee beans. The civet digests the soft outer part of the coffee cherry, but does not digest the inner beans and excretes them. It tastes and smells a lot like chocolate and is quite a good cup of coffee."

Sheep eyeballs • "I had frog legs in France, Rocky Mountain oysters in Colorado and pig snout in Louisiana but the scariest thing I ever ate was sheep eyeballs in Iraq," says Jason Talcott, program director for Culinary Arts at Salt Lake Community College. "While I was stationed there I befriended the local nationals that ran the coffee shop on our Forward Operating Base. I went back to their trailer and they were cooking a whole sheep. To be given the eyes was a huge honor. The texture was somewhat gristly and not much flavor."

Calves brains • "I was in France at school," recalled Julie Wilson, the food and beverage director at Deer Valley Resort. "The worst part was the gooey almost sticky texture. The taste I don't remember — probably for a reason. Don't think I'd ever try it again."

Chicken stomach • Tom Grant, chef at Martine in Salt Lake City, was 20 and heading to Guadalajara with a Mexican native friend and staying with his family. "We hopped on a flight to Mazatlan and had tacos at the bus terminal, before a 10-hour bus ride to Guadalajara complete with live chickens and the works. We arrived about 1:30 a.m. The next morning his family served me their specialty — "menudo," nothing more than tripe and broth. I tried to be polite as the family hovered over me but after chewing and chewing and chewing the chicken stomach, I finally [succumbed] to the stars of madre, padre and the rest of the familia and said, 'no me gusto.' At that point they asked what I wanted and I replied, 'a couple of fried eggs.'

Snails • "This falls more into the disgusting category than scary or strange, but when I was young, my parents knew I loved eating 'Chinese style snails,' often cooked in a black bean/garlic sauce," said SuAn Chow, owner of the ChowTruck. To eat them, "you suck the snail out" of its shell. "We were in Chinatown — San Francisco and they decided to buy a bag to bring home. It traveled all the way back to Salt Lake in the car. I remember that it smelled terrible when being cooked. But far worse was when I sucked one out and chomped into it — it had many little shells...ughh pregnant snails."

kathys@sltrib.com

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