Elise Rider signed up for Bozeman High School's culinary arts class because she thought it would be fun to learn to cook, not because she wanted to eat wax worms.

“I did not sign up to eat bugs!” Rider said Tuesday in third-period class.

Rider made a face as she chewed the melted cheese quesadilla, enhanced by a filling of high-protein worms.

“They're not bad,” said Cole Clevenger, 18, one of a half-dozen third-period students brave enough to try the wax worms.

The bugs don't really have much flavor, Clevenger said. It's more of a texture.

Family and consumer science teacher Penney Wiley normally teaches her students about nutrition and how to cook healthy and aesthetically pleasing meals. Her Pro-Start students are learning how to cook like professional chefs and recently won the second-place team trophy in the state Pro-Start Culinary Competition.

For events like that, her students cook up classy-sounding meals of seared beef tenderloin with Montana micro-greens, wasabi aioli and huckleberry horseradish, wild sockeye salmon with orange confit, and lime chiffon desert.

But Wiley caught the bug-eating bug from Florence Dunkel, the Montana State University professor who for years has promoted the idea of eating insects to her students. Last month Dunkel spoke to the Montana Association of Family and Consumer Science Educators. Wiley felt inspired to give it a try.

She showed her students a BBC documentary, “Eating Bugs: Can It Save the World?” The video showed kids in Thailand catching crickets to eat for school lunch – “No big deal,” Wiley said – and flour made from ground crickets and a restaurant named Chirp where bugs are on the menu.

While she heated up a quesadilla, Wiley asked her students about the pros and cons of eating insects – “land shrimp” — compared to cows, chickens and other animals Americans eat. They grow a lot faster, a girl said. They make a lot less greenhouse gases, a boy added. They don't need much water and they produce a lot of protein.

But then, as a couple of girls pointed out, they're “gross.”

“Will you give me an A if I eat one?” Rider asked her teacher. “It's all mental. I hate bugs.”

Despite Tuesday's unorthodox menu, cooking classes have become quite popular at Bozeman High, Wiley said. Five years ago there were three classes offered a day. Today there are eight classes, including the professional-level class.

“Everybody wants to cook and be a chef,” she said. “I think it's the Food Network myself.”

Next fall, two professional chefs plan to work with the ProStart students – Todd Christiansen of the Hilton Garden Inn and Anthony Calkins of Ale Works. Wiley said she's hoping that next year her ProStart team will win first place. The students probably won't be cooking wax worms.

Gail Schontzler can be reached at gails@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.

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