Quick dish: Never Blue chef Jesse Roque talks about cooking with crickets, exotic melons and more

A MATTER OF TASTE: At Never Blue, chef Jesse Roque creates a diverse, globally influenced menu that's not afraid to venture outside the box — cricket tacos are among her current menu items. Photo by Liisa Andreassen

Chef Jesse Roque describes her downtown Hendersonville restaurant, Never Blue, as a “state of mind and a matter of taste.”  The menu, which shows influences from all over the world, offers tapas as well as full entrées. Roque, who owns Never Blue with her husband, Edson, says they try to change their menu at least twice a year, and the most recently launched iteration is rooted in getting back to the earth.

Some current menu items include Korean barbecue pork sliders with pickled carrots and cucumbers, sriracha-ginger cream, yuzu-soy gastrique and fresh cilantro served on black sesame sweet rolls; a beet salad with malbec-brown sugar caramelized crimson beets, chardonnay-ginger pickled golden beets, goat cheese, Marcona almonds, balsamic gastrique; and house ravioli with fresh quelites (wild greens) from the chef’s garden and ricotta with a black peppercorn-asiago cream sauce and crispy, fried, house-cured duck prosciutto.

Oh, and, by the way, did we mention the cricket tacos?

Mountain Xpress: What are the main differences between this menu and the previous one?

Jesse Roque: Our inspiration for this menu was to go back to our roots, so to speak. We opened Never Blue nine years ago as a globally inspired tapas restaurant, However, we learned that tapas in and of itself was rather obscure in our location, so to adapt to our environment, we reverted to a more traditional menu. Over the years we have seen an increase in the tapas concept and decided that now was the right time to relaunch our original idea of an eclectic tapas menu.

Tell me about these cricket tacos.

My husband is from Mexico and grew up eating many unusual things. Chapulines — crickets in English — are one of his favorites. Chapuline tacos are high on his list of must-haves when in Mexico, so it seemed like the least threatening way for us to integrate them into our menu. We are both concerned by the rapidly growing consumption of meat in our country and around the world. Introducing a protein with such an insubstantial carbon footprint in comparison to common proteins (i.e., beef, pork and lamb) seemed like the next step in showing people a viable alternative in a unique and delicious way. More than half of the globe consumes some type of insect as a primary source of protein and we felt like it was time to look at our options as a planet that is rapidly burning through our resources. We currently buy our crickets from Entomo Farms in Ontario, Canada.

What is the strangest thing you’ve ever eaten?

Sea urchin. To me, it tasted slightly of rotting kelp. I really wanted to like it, but I just couldn’t stomach it. The texture was bouncy, spongy and mushy all at the same time.

What is your favorite kitchen tool? Why?

My mandoline. I love thinly sliced, julienned or shaved things and I am able to achieve this with just about any ingredient on my trusty old “mandy.”

What would you order for a last meal?

My mom’s cheese cracker chicken or my husband’s hog trotter frijoles charros.

What is  one of your “bucket list” ingredients (an item that you would love to cook with in the future)? What would you do with it?

Yubari King melon. I would probably just eat it as is (at that price it would be a crime to alter it). If pressed, I might make “King Mel’s” gin popsicles with it. This melon is a cultivar that’s a cross between two cantaloupe varieties. It’s orange-fleshed and prized for its juicy sweetness as well as its beautiful proportions. Yubari King melons are often sold in perfectly matched pairs and are a highly prized gift in Japan that are sure to impress a host or employer. According to Gourmet magazine, the choicest melon pairs were auctioned in Japan for as much as $26,000, but a standard Yubari melon costs between $50 and $100 in Japanese stores.

What is your overall food philosophy?

Flavorful, real food made with love is the only food you should eat. And, when it comes to food, there is inspiration in everything.

What are your plans for the future?

My husband and I are tossing around ideas for a possible tapas truck or maybe a warehouse-style cantina with tequila on draft.  Who knows? We might even pack up our daughters and move to Alaska.

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