Frog leg potato salad. Feral pig bratwurst. Pulled wild turkey.
In other words — not your average meal.
All of these unusual foods were available to diners at the Invasive Species Cook-off, which was held Sunday afternoon at Chintimini Farm in Philomath. The event, which was organized by the Institute for Applied Ecology, featured catered meals and a cooking competition that both used invasive species.
The institute’s goal is for the event to raise public awareness about the dangers of non-native species to an ecosystem.
The Invasive Species Cook-off started last year as a potluck, but this year its format changed dramatically. The biggest new feature is a cooking competition in which three chefs were tasked with creating a meal using blackberries, dandelion greens and wild pig. The chefs — Jason Biga of Aqua in Corvallis, Hamid Serdani of Serdani Chef Services in Corvallis, and Rick Browne of Barbecue America on PBS — each had an hour to create dishes featuring the foods.
Biga, who made a kimchi-like dish and Korean-style barbecue pig, said he thinks the event is a great idea because it helps to educate the public.
He said that he brought in other invasive species to include with his meal, such as mint, to help show off some of the possibilities in cooking vegetative invasive species.
“I hope people take a little away from this,” he said.
Serdani submitted a dish with pork shops and mashed potatoes, which were drizzled in a blackberry-balsamic sauce. Browne used Morroccan and Indonesian spices in a dish that featured blackberry-mango salsa. Biga, who said he deliberately chose to use bold, spicy flavors, was declared the winner of the competition, which gave no prize other than bragging rights.
In addition to the showcase meals the chefs prepared for the judges, Matt Bennett, of Sybaris Bistro in Albany, catered the event and prepared a variety of dishes featuring invasive species, such as a dandelion spanakopita.
Bennett said that he was shocked by the level of interest in the event, and that it is great people are interested in doing something about invasives.
“It’s a very positive event because you have this problem (with invasive species) — so lets eat them. It gives you kind of a warm and happy mission.”
Tom Kaye, executive director of the Corvallis-based Institute for Applied Ecology, said the intent of the event was to raise funds for their ecosystem restoration and research work and to create more public awareness of the impact of invasive species.
“By having an invasive species cook-off we can bring up the topic of invasive species in a way that is fun,” he said. “We are literally bringing people to the table to talk about this issue.”
Kaye said a study in 2005 estimated the cost of invasive species in the U.S. is around $120 billion each year.
He said invasive species like clover, thistle, nutria and various grasses can do immense amounts of damage to agricultural production, and the pervasiveness of invasive plants means herbicides are more necessary in agriculture.
Kaye said one of the reasons blackberries were selected to be included in the cooking competition is because many people don’t realize they are one of the worst invasive species in Oregon.
“Blackberries are a real problem, so outreach is needed to make sure people know this isn’t just berries in the summer. It’s a real problem on the landscape and there are good alternatives to it.”
He said education on invasive species is so important because it is much easier to prevent the spread of species like blackberry than try to remove them once they take hold.
Kaye said his organization’s mission is the conservation of native species and habitats through restoration, research and education. He added that the restoration projects often involve removing invasive species, and the research involves how to best remove invasive species. According to Kaye, this event helps to fill the educational aspect of the institute’s mission.
“The message we want to spread is that this is a real problem and there is something we can do about it,” he said.
For more information on invasive species, see the Institute for Applied Ecology’s website at appliedeco.org.