Seated outside on my first night, my fingers traced several crispy knobs served in a basket.
"Japanese knotweed," Bun said, handing me one. "It's one of the ten most destructive invasive plants on the planet."
American travelers returning from Japan first brought knotweed to America. Left alone, it will crowd away other plants and even grow through concrete. Worse, if you dig the roots out from their soil, any crumbled bits will regenerate into a new plant, like a virus. Pickled in soy sauce and chili flakes and tempura fried, however, knotweed is tastier than a kale chip.
Every dish at Miya's includes something that's been growing where it shouldn't, it seems. There are sea robins and mugwort. Venomous lionfish. Even the miso soup is cooked with pumpkin, squash, and "dead man's fingers," a pernicious seaweed Bun tucks as a toasted seasoning into many of his constructions.
The edible species come from far beyond New Haven, as well. Hearing about Miya's, a few struggling Kentucky fisherman contacted Bun for help with the Asian carp that were transported to the U.S. in the 1970s to consume algae in fish-farm ponds but had since escaped into the Mississippi Basin and denuded it of sport and market fish. Today, the carp have proliferated to a degree that they threaten to invade the Great Lakes.
The carp are a perfect example of Bun's philosophy: Though it's a popular meat in Asia and Europe, hardly anyone cooks it here. Who walks into a restaurant and asks for a carp steak? But Bun now receives shipments from the Kentucky fishermen and features variations of carp, raw and grilled, on the menu. A trend, he hopes, will follow. It has in the past. If you've ever eaten a sweet potato roll, you've eaten one of Bun's most successful inventions.
Very few of Bun's dishes challenged me in the ways I'd expected. My blindness didn't seem to be an advantage to enjoying a roll that combines cashew butter, banana, and shrimp, or another of salmon bones and broccoli stems, common kitchen scraps that Bun pressure-cooks into a tender delicacy. They were all tasty enough that my fellow diners and even my wife ate them happily—no blindness needed.
Then came the insects. One roll came topped with a desiccated cricket. One was peppered with dehydrated black soldier flies. I'm told they looked like little raisins. They tasted faintly of peanuts. In other dishes, smoked soldier fly larvae provided a crunchy imitation of bacon bits.
"One pound of beef protein," Bun explained, "can require up to two thousand gallons of water. A pound of cricket protein typically uses about a gallon and a half."
In a world of diminishing freshwater sources, the math is hard to dismiss. Bun raises his own black soldier flies and crickets and worms in small aquarium tanks and feeds them restaurant spoils. The insects are protein and vitamin rich, organic as can be, contaminant free, and dense in healthy fatty acids. Compare that to an industrial supermarket beef steak: Bite for bite, his crickets provide as much nutrition but lack all the health risks of red meat, not to mention the environmental pollution of raising cattle. A person just has to get past, you know, the bug thing.
Even I struggled. Immediately I recognized the cricket's shape with my tongue and reflexively shut my eyes, as if I could help avoid the knowledge of what my mouth was forcing me to see. Did the cricket have an amazing flavor? Not really. Texture? I'd probably have to eat the entire aquarium before I'd get used to it. But the insects were good, in a sense. A very broad, philosophical sort of sense.
So is Bun's strategy working? Perhaps. Other chefs have turned to featuring invasives on their menus. In Washington, Wolfgang Puck's The Source sells invasive snakehead, a carnivorous Asian fresh-water fish that has no known predators in the United States other than adventurous chefs. New York City restaurateur Ryan Chadwick serves invasive lionfish at his restaurant Norman's Cay and has even begun a wholesale lionfish sales business to further target the species. Bun himself has been invited across the country to help others hunt and cook the unwelcome abundance outside their restaurant doors.
For some ecosystems, perhaps it is too late to eat our way out of the problem. But Bun is determined. I've seen his relentless grit firsthand. Marooned on that rock, we put our hands to the boat's hull, dug in our feet, and shoved. The boat gave a couple inches. Sometimes less. Bun hung on the prow while I shouldered the tail sideways in an attempt to walk the boat back to sea. The rocks gashed deeper into our feet with every push. I slipped on blood and seaweed. Inch by inch, though, the boat closed in on the water.
If at any point during our marooning Bun had any regrets about having invited a blind man on a dive trip, he didn't say them aloud. Honestly, I believe he considers occasional crises a natural, even desirable consequence of pursuing rewarding activities. I believe this too: that the best experiences are the ones that try to push you out of them. The ones that, at first look, you might not see.
*This article origionally appeared in the October 2016 issue of Popular Mechanics.