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Cooking / Events / Nutrition / Our story / Sustainability

Designing an insect based menu, by Seb Holmes

January 15, 2014

The last few months have been quite monumental in my so far short-lived (hopefully) career as a chef. Now I know throughout life people always tell you things like, “you can never guess where you’ll end up”, and “you will never end up doing what you expect to”, and up until recently I always thought that was all a load of old bollocks – however, they were bloody right.

Grub is a new start-up whose intentions are to change the UK’s preconceptions towards eating insects. They plan to do this firstly by demonstrating to the public how insects can taste delicious via a series of pop-up events, which will offer a set, insect based menu (this is where I come in). From this they aim to become the place to go to buy insects on a small or large scale within the UK. Ultimately, they are doing their part towards getting us to start eating this already available, sustainable food source. They also plan to continue the concept in the future by setting up a restaurant in London.

We found one another a few months ago, they were looking for a chef to design an Asian style, insect based menu and I was looking for a new, exciting project – this was it.

Insects, tasty insects!

I first met with Neil for what I thought was a relaxed, normal job interview in a pub in Old Street, as soon as we began chatting he pulled out four take-away containers holding crickets, grasshoppers, meal worms and buffalo worms, I then realised, shit- this is not a normal job interview. I have to be honest, when I first looked at these containers I had to force a straight face (as I’m sure you can imagine it looked like some kind of weird drug deal, two guys, middle of the day, lots of insects), but I quickly got used to the idea and began eating them to see how they taste.

Now I have eaten a lot of different ingredients in my life, in fact, every different ingredient I come across I feel the need to try at least once. When I tasted these insects for the first time I was amazed.  They offer an interesting and different flavour and textual experience to lots of foods we are used to. The buffalo worms have a sour element, to which the crickets and grasshoppers have a nutty flavour. All this aside I was expecting a gritty, disgusting taste which highlighted the reason that us in the West decide not to eat them, even though they are an obvious answer to the worlds hunger problem. But no! What I was faced with was four new ingredients that I would happily add to my kitchen pantry to cook with at home.

To then find out that there are around 2,000 known species of edible insects in the world today I almost couldn’t believe what I had stumbled across. Not to mention the fact that for some reason no one is already doing this kind of thing very successfully in the UK at the moment. So I accepted Grub’s challenge to design a pop-up insect based menu.

Since this day I have been in close communication with Founders Shami Radia and Neil Whippey as we strive towards launching the concept to the public. I was given four weeks to design as many dishes as I could for them to come and taste.

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Two months, two tastings, 24 dishes, god knows how many cooking hours and a shit load of insects later and we were ready. Together we had designed a seven course Asian taster menu that doesn’t just put insects on a plate; it takes the diner on an experience of new flavours and textures.

Grub recently got sponsored by Chang beer and we hosted a soft launch a couple of months ago which went extremely well. We fed our set menu to 30 diners and feedback was all positive. So keep your eyes on this space and I will keep you updated with my work for Grub, future pop-ups and their so far rapid progress.

And remember! If you find a bug in your soup, be happy as you’re lucky – it’s free protein, ha.