Five hundred years ago, growing amaranth in Mexico was a crime punishable by death: the Spanish invaders had outlawed cultivating or even possessing the staple crop. Key to both the diet and religion of the Aztecs, amaranth seeds were mixed with honey and human blood, formed into cakes shaped like the gods, and then eaten in religious ceremonies—a practice with which the conquistadors took issue. But despite the ban, enough amaranth continued to grow in the wild that it never died out, and today throughout the continent there's increased interest in the high-protein, gluten-free seeds (while it's often called a grain, technically amaranth is a pseudocereal, like quinoa and buckwheat).
So when Sarah Jordan of Johnny's Grill challenged Rachel Dow, chef at the Betty, to create a dish with amaranth, Dow had no trouble finding it. Working with it was another matter. "It kind of tastes like dirt," she says. "Definitely extremely earthy. I probably wouldn't choose to eat it very often." Amaranth can be ground into flour, boiled like rice, or popped like popcorn. Dow tried preparing it a couple of ways, and found that popping it was harder than she expected—"If the pan is too hot it burns [the seeds] before they pop; if it's too cold nothing happens."
Eating ant eggs is common in Mexico, where they're called escamoles, and in Thailand, where they're used as a tart accent to salads, omelets, and other dishes. In Chicago, though, the ant eggs and pupae of the type usually consumed are few and far between. So when Tony Lomanto and Anthony Alfonsi of Kuma's Corner challenged Christine Cikowski and Josh Kulp to create a dish with ant eggs, the Honey Butter Fried Chicken chefs had to do some searching.
"People don't take it very kindly when you ask for spotted dick," Tony Lomanto of Kuma's Corner says. Challenged by Pat Niebling of b>Three Floyds Brewpub to create a dish with the British dessert, Lomanto and his sous chef, Anthony Alfonsi, called a couple of stores in search of it—eliciting mixed reactions—before ordering it online. While it's possible to make the steamed suet pudding from scratch, the dessert with the chuckle-worthy name also comes in cans. (In 2009, a British catering company briefly changed the name to "Spotted Richard" on its menus in an attempt to avoid "unwelcome and childish comments," as a spokesman told the Telegraph, before public outrage forced them to reinstate the original name.)