The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, on the Parkway in Philadelphia, contains over 17 million specimens in its archives, from dinosaurs to buffalo to rocks.
Every wonder what they taste like?
"It is chewy, but it's not any more chewy as other cuts of meat that you're familiar with," said Chef Chuck Ziccardi, popping a piece of fried python in his mouth.
The professor in Drexel University's culinary arts program is experimenting with the best way to prepare python meat for the Academy of Natural Sciences' "Cuisine from the Collections" cocktail party this weekend, featuring foods represented in the Academy's vast collection of biological and geological specimens.
The tasting menu will include a variety of dips made of cricket and moth, small plates of venison and rabbit sausage, sushi made from octopus and sea urchin, and buffalo chili. There will also be a salt bar, featuring a variety of salts for tasting.
The dishes will be presented alongside actual scientific specimens pulled out from storage, including the skull of a buffalo shot by William "Buffalo Bill" Cody, and a large squid floating in a jar.
Chef Ziccardi has never cooked a snake before. He spent a few hours the day before the event experimenting with fillets sourced from a python farm in Vietnam. The pinkish flesh appears flaky but is actually very firm. It's covered in a resilient membrane that needs to be cut away.
"It feels exactly between a meat and a fish," said Ziccardi. "You can see these pieces of meat fibers. It has these fibers that create strength in it. You can imagine: they are very strong animals. There isn't a part of their body that isn't used. You're going to get that type of meat throughout the whole thing."
The trick is tenderizing. Ziccardi is thinking about marinating it in buttermilk to loosen up the meat, or give it a light pounding before dusting with cornmeal and frying. He will be serving it with a Southwestern mango salsa.
"We want to have happy snake tasters," said Ziccardi. "Have them leaving thinking, 'Snake, it's good.'"