Thursday, March 18, 2010

"Food Adventure" Clubs Embrace the Unusual

"Food adventure" clubs such as the New York-based Gastronauts are attracting members interested in trying unusual foods such as live octopus or goat kidneys. Pastry chef Jenna Volcheff said she attends Gastronauts events to experience food from different cultures without having to travel.

NEW YORK — Ben Raisher watches as the writhing Octopus on his plate has its tentacles clipped with giant shears, then squirms in amber sesame oil like a pile of bisected earthworms.

With a deft pinch of his chopsticks, the wriggling, still-alive limb is in his mouth and down his throat.

Raisher, 28, smiles. It's what brought him to his local food adventure club, one of a handful of groups dedicated to dining on exotic and bizarre foods from New York to Denver to San Francisco.

The iron-stomached champions of New York City are the Gastronauts, who meet monthly to feast on foods many wouldn't consider, such as pig hearts and intestine in vinegar, goat kidneys or sauteed lamb's brains.

"Nothing's off the table," said co-founder Curtiss Calleo, who grew up in Austria and Italy and wants to bring Old World curiosity to New York plates. "Any restaurant worth its salt has sweetbreads or tongue or pork bellies. There's a food renaissance going on."

Offal is old hat for groups like the Boston Gastronauts and the Organ Meet Society of New York City. There are groups devoted to eating only insects and some that venture into extreme territory, like the San Francisco Food Adventure Club that recently organized a human placenta tasting (the dinner had to be canceled due to potential formaldehyde exposure).

Most of the adventures are in good fun, but some have pushed boundaries. Last week, federal prosecutors filed charges against a restaurant and sushi chef accused of serving endangered whale meat in Santa Monica, Calif.

Read the complete story here.

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