UNION SQUARE — For Lower East Side artist Gianberto Vann, the ostrich egg — a behemoth work of nature weighing up to three pounds — has long inspired some of his most adventurous dinner parties.
That was until this past Monday, when Vann, 81, bought his first emu egg.
Dark green and black on the outside, and creamy on the inside, the egg first caught his eye as it glinted in the sunlight at the Roaming Acres Farm stand in the Union Square Market. Ever the adventurous cook, Vann couldn't help but buy the six-inch, nearly two-pound egg which he planned to serve scrambled with shrimp and bacon alongside his duck breast entree.
"This I haven't tried," Vann, 81, said, cradling the egg with one hand, debating how to explain his choice to his dinner party of eight. "It's very interesting. I'm going to tell them it came from a very extraordinary duck."
Vann hasn't been alone in his quest to try the highly sought after, and very expensive, emu egg, according to Roaming Acres Farm salesman Lou Braxton.
Despite their $20 price tags, emu eggs have soared in popularity in the past year as both amateur and professional chefs seek the next big thing to spice up their kitchens with the exotic and colorful novelty.
"There's definitely been a surge in emu egg purchases," Braxton, 61, said. "Lots of people are experimenting with them. Most of them go to independent people planning a party — people trying to outdo their neighbors or friends for dinners or brunches."
The egg has become so popular, in fact, that the farm hasn't been able to keep up with the orders that have come surging in since the emus first started laying late this season, in December.
"We haven't had any stay with us over a week," Braxton said, explaining that he's been selling the novelty items as quickly as the 6-foot-6 birds have been producing them.
Altogether, Braxton has received more than a hundred eggs this season from the 22 emus that reside on the New Jersey farm. The emus, which are transported from their native land of Australia, are aggressive and territorial but profitable, as each lays between 10 and 20 eggs a season.
Braxton started keeping the birds and selling their eggs 10 years ago to complement his line of ostrich eggs, which have an opposite laying season to the emu. Their sales were originally meant only to help with farm costs, but business picked up after chefs from high-end restaurants such as Blue Hill Farm and wd-50 started highlighting the eggs in specialty dishes.
In the past two weeks, he has sold nearly 60 eggs to curious and eager patrons. Last week, 18 eggs were sold and only 16 laid.
"They're eye magnets," Braxton added.
Normally, Braxton would be selling nearly as many empty egg shells as full ones, as artists and other Manhattanites come in search of the delicate-looking but sturdy shell, which has a unique look due to the spots of black that peek through its dark green finish.
Artists use the eggs for miniature carving, scratching away at the outer shell to reveal layers of white and even turquoise.
"Food can be an art and, in this case, nature is an art within herself," explained customer Lloyd Taplin, 60, a flower arranger who lives in Cleveland.
Artist and animal emergency hospital worker Grace Palescandolo agreed.
"Its beautiful. The way the sun shines on it, it looks like a jewel," said the New Jersey resident, 60. "There's a texture to the shell from the black and green and almost gold reflections. It could really be a jewel."
Braxton, however, hasn't been able to sell empty ones to Palescandolo or anyone else. He empties them when they get too old to sell. This year, so many people are enjoying the eggs' rich, duck-like yolks that none have been left spare.
Architect Victoria Rospond can attest to the lure of the creamy yolk.
After passing by the eggs three days a week for years, she finally took the bait last weekend and bought two for a party at her Lower East Side office. After steaming them in a lobster pot and serving them with spoons to scoop over a kale and olive oil salad, she declared the egg venture a success.
"The eggs were so cool. And very delicate tasting — much better than chicken eggs," Rospond, 50, said. "But they weren't runny — I think that would freak people out. They were coddled."
She added that she was surprised how far her two eggs went, feeding a total of 16 people.
Some chefs, however, say that no matter how many they feed, the eggs just don't produce enough bang for their buck.
"They're definitely interesting, but they're not cost-effective," said Peter Tochet, Chief Procurement Officer of Pizza by Certe. "I was making pasta with them, but I can't justify spending that much on a pasta dish."
Real estate agent and Brooklyn resident Jonah Cohen, 33, who was shopping at the market last week, agreed.
"For $20 I wouldn't want to crack one open," Cohen said. "But I guess for some they're perfect for green eggs and ham, anyway."