Cooking / Events / Nutrition / Our story / Sustainability
Incr – edible insect chefs around the world: Seb Holmes
September 21, 2014
There’s been huge demand for Grub’s recipes; our kitchen can barely keep up, so we’ve asked some of the best edible insect chefs from around the world to share their passion and skills! Just before we send him back into the kitchen to make some more wondrous insect creations, we thought that there’d be no-one better to start with than our very own wonder chef, Seb Holmes. For the first time you’ll hear about how he discovered food, how he came to meet Grub, his thoughts on cooking with insects and where the West goes from here. Read on to find out more…
How did you get into cooking?
I first started cooking when I was 12 years old. I was actually incredibly lucky in the fact that I went straight into the kitchen and picked up a knife. Many of my friends in the industry started their career amongst the bubbles of the sink, washing up. I really wanted to work so my brother got me a job working in a local British pub in Deddington, Oxford with his friend. It was a great place to start at such a young age. As soon as I got a taste for the catering industry I was instantly addicted to the whole thing. I stayed here for around two years and then decided that I was ready for something else, a little more complicated. I was still at school at the time so I got a part time job working in a hotel called the Kings Arms in Woodstock, Oxfordshire. This place was great for me, it was busy, the food was excellent and the chefs were great. I stayed here for the next six years, part time in the school terms and full time in the holidays, learning everything I could whilst I completed my Journalism degree. As soon as I finished University I went straight to the Begging Bowl, in London’s Peckham, where I am now sous chef. I’m also head chef at ‘Eat Grub’, where I design dishes, menu’s and insect based products and run pop-up dining events with them. Thai street food has become a big part of my life over the last few years and I can’t see my love for it fading any time soon- it’s awesome. Most of my life has revolved around food, even when not in the kitchen I like to keep a food blog. My first one began during my time as a student. My most recent one, ‘Articuleat‘, I’ve been writing since I moved to London. I use it to share with the public recipes I create, events I take part in, stories about the madness of the catering industry and near enough anything that I think people may want to hear about. I use it to share with anyone that is interested what it’s like to be involved in this amazing industry, without them having to suffer the heat of the kitchen themselves. Aside from my time in the kitchen and my writing my mother has played a large part in my love for food. Her mother and herself have always had a gift in the kitchen, subconsciously I think my love for cooking came from her. Her and her partner, Marko, own ‘The San Danielle’ an authentic Italian restaurant in Highbury. Having my close family involved in the exact same industry as me also plays a part in making me feel at home in the kitchen.
How long have you been eating/cooking bugs for?
I’ve now been cooking bugs with Grub for pretty much one year. Wow! Now that I say it like that it sounds like nothing, the amount that we have achieved throughout this year makes it’s feel like ten, it’s been amazing. I’m currently 24 and have been cooking since I was 12, but cooking insects for me is a relatively new thing. My passion and training has led me to Thai street food and this is the model in which me and Grub have built their concept. The intricate balances of sweet, salty, sour and hot are a perfect accompaniment to the delicate flavours of insects.
Tell us about your first insect experience and what got you so hooked?
The first time I ever ate insects was when I was backpacking around Asia, It was way back in 2008 but I do remember it clearly. I tried marinated, grilled grasshoppers straight off the charcoal grill in Bangkok. I remember thinking that they were surprisingly nice, coming from a food background I always make sure not too shy away from trying something new. They had a salty edge that leaves your taste buds wanting more (this I assume was from a fish sauce based seasoning), and a crunchy, but meaty texture within the mouth. However, in this experience it was more of a quirky, one-off taste rather than something that converted the way I eat. It was the first time I met with Neil and Shami that got me hooked on the insect game. Grub found me through chef Andy Oliver who is a mutual friend of mine and Shami’s, through when I was working with him at the Begging Bowl. I first met with Neil in a pub in old street for a job interview that was going to change my career, and my perspective towards modern (and future) cuisine. As we began to chat about Grub and what they were looking for in their chef, out came four containers holding crickets, mealworms, grasshoppers and buffalo worms- not your usual pub lunch? I was instantly intrigued and dove straight in to give them a try, the guys sat next to us were not quite as impressed as me, but if they tried our food now, I’m sure they would love it. To be honest I’m sure I would probably be a little bemused a year a go if I had seen two fully grown men drinking pints and eating raw insects, straight out of the tupperware?
Do you have a favourite insect? Could you Describe the taste and how you like cooking it?
So far my favourite insects to work with are crickets. This is because they have such a distinctive taste and flavour. For some reason when many people that have not tried insects before think about eating them, they assume that they all taste the same, ‘insects’ become a singular product in their imagination? Crickets are a great way to start someone’s journey into the world of entomophagy because they exemplify how,although small, certain insects have distinct flavour. Many describe them to taste like milky nuts, others say they taste like pork scratchings when fried and I’ve even heard dried shrimps before. I don’t disagree with any of these claims completely, as they are all in the right ball park. However, I think that the reason descriptions of their flavour are not consistent is because most people have never tasted anything like it before- maybe crickets just taste like crickets? Crickets are great to cook with in many ways, roasted, deep-fried, battered, salted and cricket flour is an amazing product, rich in protein and healthy vitamins and low in cholesterol – they’re a wonder product.
Are there any insects that you wouldn’t eat and why?
No, I would make an effort to at least try every edible insect that I come across, I’m not promising that I will like them all though. After speaking to Shami though I would have to say the thought of eating tarantula seems pretty daunting. The puss within finished with a hairy legged mouthful that doesn’t seem to want to break up in the mouth does not sound like my ideal dining choice. However, screw it, you only live once, if it’s edible and you love food as much as I do, if I come across one it’s going in.
What should we do as entomophagy enthusiasts to make eating insects more acceptable to Westerners?
I think that the west is on the verge of an insect revolution. They have been eaten throughout human history for centuries and it’s only modern society that have become so tied up in preconceptions that they haven’t even contemplated eating insects. With the work of many of the people that Grub will be interviewing on this blog the west will eventually catch on- it has too. Many insects can and do taste delicious when prepared properly. Ive been cooking, eating and closely linked to the catering industry most my life and I strongly believe this, there quite honestly is just too many of us for me to be the only one – not to mention too many of us to feed, insects resolve this issue too. Although I’m sure the transition towards entomophagy will happen naturally in time, I also believe that the west would benefit from more education regarding the taste and cooking techniques used to make the most out of insects as a cooking ingredient. Many understand the sustainability benefits but are afraid to prepare and eat insects within their own home. The first step for the west is to try them and realise that they like them, the rest will follow naturally.
What’s your favourite insect fact?
“If every insect on the planet was to disappear tomorrow, the human race would not survive. If every human being was to disappear tomorrow, insects would carry on living just fine”.
What are your upcoming plans?
My upcoming plans are to continue doing what I love to do – cooking and eating. Keep and eye out on my blog and the Grub website to keep up to date with what I’m up to. We are working on some really awesome projects that will be becoming public very soon.