DENVER -- Inside the kitchen of one of Denver's trendiest eateries, there is a new food item carefully separated from the rest, and no, it's not the nuts.... It's the crickets.
"People are not accustomed to seeing bugs in their food or even knowing that they're in the same vicinity," said Jeremy Kittelson, the culinary director at Linger. "The thing about bugs is there is kind of a fear with them."
Kittelson, however, is not afraid of taking risks, and Linger started serving cricket tacos earlier this year in an effort to provide a more sustainable protein option.
"The thing we did well was we made the dish delicious, and people actually enjoyed it," said Kittelson, who admitted there was a bit of a learning curve. "We've actually done three iterations of a cricket dish. We started with tacos, and then we went to a tamale, and now we're doing an empanada style."
The cricket and cassava empanada now on the menu uses cricket flour in the tortilla and ground crickets in the filling, making them more palatable and easier to control in the kitchen, Kittelson said.
The crickets were sourced from Rocky Mountain Micro Ranch, Colorado's only insect farm.
Located inside a shipping container in west Denver, the crickets are raised in a temperature-controlled grow tent.
"In this shipping container, I raise crickets and meal worms to sell to restaurants like Linger and food manufacturers," said Wendy Lu McGill, the Micro Ranch's founder, who said several other popular restaurants such as Zengo, Lena and Comida have served her crickets as a healthy food option. "In addition to protein, crickets also have as much iron as spinach, as much calcium as milk and as much B12 as salmon."
While some may find eating insects unappealing, it is not a new or unusual concept in many parts of the world.
A 2013 report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations states that at least 2 billion people worldwide eat insects regularly.
The report promotes eating bugs, not only saying they are nutritious, but also that they "emit considerably fewer greenhouse gases (GHGs) than most livestock (methane, for instance, is produced by only a few insect groups, such as termites and cockroaches.)"
"Insects are - I like to say - good for us and good for the planet," said McGill, who hopes to help change the image of insects in food for the American public. "I really hope that, at the least, this might plant a seed, and if they come across it in the form of a protein bar or a delicious empanada at Linger, they'll try it."
Some Linger diners said they weren't convinced about the menu option.
"I'm not going to be trying any crickets today, no thank you," said Chris Perkins, who had just enjoyed lunch and "prefers not to eat bugs."
But others were open to the idea, saying it fit with the eateries' image of sustainable, creative food.
"I would try a crunchy cricket. For sure, I would," said Jean McGinnis. "Maybe not a whole one. I would need to work my way up to that."