Entoview with Entomochef

Not many of us can say that we played a significant part in the start of an idea or concept that shapes the way the world works. Even for those in the right place at the right time, such as for the web innovators of Silicon Valley in the 90s, the next leap forward is often an unexpected one. As many are now beginning to realise, global population growth and food security issues have forced us to the cusp of a new agricultural revolution – only this time, everyone sees it coming.

Chris Derudder is a Belgian entomophagy advocate with his name tied to several companies, organisations and events, including BCDE Catering, Entomochef, the Belgian Entomophagy Cooperative, the International ENTOpreneurs Community (IEC), and World Edible Insect Day (WEID). We grabbed him to answer a few questions, ahead of WEID on October 23rd.

EBF: You’re a man of many hats. Let’s start with BCDE Catering, of which you’re a founder. What kind of things does BCDE offer its customers, and what is its mission?

Chris Derudder
Chris Derudder | Entomochef

Chris: We – Bahija and Chris Derudder – are BCDE Catering, and our core business is catering. Sustainable catering. Catering with a heart for People and Planet.

Delicious, organic, Fairtrade, and local food, with no waste, and training on the workfloor for people with a labour market disadvantage are the key concepts that run through the food and catering ethos that we operate here with a crowd of co-workers.

We have also thought carefully about nutrition and nourishment as a whole. How can we bring more nutritious dishes to the table that have as low a carbon footprint as possible? And vegetables that may not be 100% marketable (“ugly food”), as well as insects (sustainable proteins) – they all have their part to play!

As a catering company, BCDE Catering is well aware of its social responsibility vis-à-vis the environment. For that reason, it is a challenge for us in the way we operate the business to strive towards sustainable development with as little impact on the environment as possible.

BCDE Catering Logo

We also make every effort to inform and train the company’s occasional and temporary staff. As a result, when they are working, our employees are fully aware that caring for the environment involves them, too. For major events, we always take the time beforehand to conduct a briefing session with the team on this topic.

BCDE Catering also tries to ensure that it selects suppliers based on their environmental policy. Potential clients are systematically informed about BCDE Catering’s policy on the environment. We also aim to be a benchmark in terms of the environment with regards to the events catering sector. We are always happy to share our experiences with fellow entrepreneurs at workshops, etc.

What about Entomochef ?

Started under the name Bug Food Gastronomy, as a part of BCDE Catering, Entomochef was created this year to grow as a spin-off and an European Economic Interest Grouping of Chefs working with edible insects.

Who is Erik?

Erik, the character that represents Entomochef, was created by his spiritual mother, Eva Neirynck, from Studio Muts. He features on all the Entomochef products with insects and will soon also have his own television channel!  On the one hand his name was derived from the eponymous book by Godfried Bomans, but on the other hand he was also named after the very first fan of BCDE Catering’s insect-eating-story.

Entomochef circle logo

For me, it was the sustainability of insect farming that really got me hooked on entomophagy. The nutrition and taste variety were an added bonus I realised later. What made you first start cooking with insects? 

Already a few years ago (2012) the story of organic vegetables and Fairtrade coffee was milked and it was not so easy any more to bring the sustainable story to an event. I was already inspired for a while by edible insects as a food protein, but I have to admit that the sporadic insertion of some insects in our reception and cocktail formulas was more to “shock” the guests than to provide an easier platform for our sustainable story. Insects were always served in this context. I have to admit to that I needed 6 months to convince Bahija before the first mealworm could enter the kitchen!

In April 2013 the FAO woke up the media, and as one of the well-known pioneers of working with edible insects, we were asked to take part in magazine, radio and television reports. In this “grey” period, working with insects was not authorised, but it was accepted.

And then, a few months later, we obtained the official agreement to really do business and we could work on our trademark and product development, and so Erik and Entomochef was born.

The reason we work now with insects is still the same, but we also added the gastronomic benefits: insect eating as a new gastronomic experience and a way to feed the world.

What’s your favourite insect dish?

Our bug lolly was the first creation, a combination of a cube of a kind of organic Fairtrade home-made brownie with a topping of freeze-dried buffalo worms on a skewer (pictured below). The crispy buffalo worms and their taste of hazelnuts give the chocolate something of a new visual look, but with a recognizable taste.

I also like working and tasting all kind of preparations with wax moth larvae (wax worms, pictured right). These larvae have a taste and texture of chicken. Flavoured with sea salt and some of Bahija’s oriental species, they are really tasty in a seasonal salad or on a skewer as fingerfood.

The entomophagy industry in Belgium is more advanced than here in the UK, with mealworm and buffalo worm products being sold in supermarkets for a couple of years already. Would you say popularity is still growing?

It’s growing step by step … or should I say mealworm by mealworm, and sometimes with small grasshopper jumps! At an annual event at Bruxelles-Champêtre with 60,000 visitors, in 2012, only about a hundred people would try our mealworms and grasshoppers (for free). Most of the visitors took a step backwards upon seeing our market shop.

But then, in September 2013, after the media “madness”, at the same event I completely sold out! We worked with 3 guys from 10:30 till 16:30 without even any time to eat or drink!

A few weeks ago, we worked with a team of 5 and we sold 6kg of Bug Nuggets (500 pieces, ready to eat) and 80 packs of Bug Burger Mix to make burgers, nuggets or croquets at home. We also made some nice contacts for national and international retail, workshops and events.

Is there anything holding it back?

I show the insects, and of course some people don’t want see them. But when I eat a shrimp croquette, I want to see the shrimps in it, and a lot of them! So I say, if we want edible insects to become a usual food, we need to show them as much as possible. If I could, I would set up a market shop such as those found in Thailand. “If you hide them, you’ll never get people used to the idea of eating them.” It needs time, so we have to hold on. When I developed the sustainable part of my catering business 6 years ago, I was seen as the alternative one, and now sustainability in catering is the warp and woof of the industry. We have to create tasty, funny and ethical food for sale in good food shops where people receive an explanation about insect eating. It’s too early to bring edible insects to the supermarket. It’s hype now, but not a real business. There is still a lot of missionary work left to do.

I’d really like to talk a little about your most recent concept: World Edible Insect Day (WEID). When is it and what’s the idea behind it?

Entomochef launched the idea of the World Edible Insect Day (WEID) at the end of August, but thanks to good responses and cooperation from more than 100 worldwide ENTOpreneurs from the “International ENTOpreneurs Community” (IEC), the date for WEID was fixed.  Every year on the 23rd of October, worldwide activities will happen to promote eating insects.

World Edible Insect Day (WEID) Logo

What do you hope will be gained from this endeavour?

It’s very important to promote and show to the insect eating regions in the world than insect eating is not old fashioned and reserved for the poor and needy people. I see now Asian and African passengers at the gourmet market in Brussels, smiling and laughing, saying “we ate it in our motherland because we had nothing else to eat”.

I saw a report about poverty and famine in the Congo on Belgian Television a few weeks ago. The woman said, “If we have no money to buy food, then we hunt 20 – 30 grasshoppers / crickets per child”. And then she would show on camera how she did it. In a few minutes she found enough crickets – and really big ones – for her entire household.

Younger generations in Asia and Africa are heavily influenced by American and European culture. The danger is if all these traditional insect eating countries demand protein from the more classic livestock, we won’t be able to produce enough quality food for all. If people see that we, Europeans and Americans, will eat insects too, and upgrade insects to a gastronomical level, maybe they will take this Western attitude as an opportunity to reinvent new businesses in their countries and upgrade them to their gastronomic restaurants. Why not an insect burger in The Mall Bangkapi MacDonalds Restaurant in Bangkok?

That’s the mission of WEID, that we – Europeans and Americans – will try insects and accept them into our diets, and realise that they can really make the change for themselves, the people and the planet.

Can we expect any other insect-related ventures from you and Entomochef in the future?

A couple of things we have planned for the near future include the creation of new products to be released in food shops. 2016 will also be the year for setting up and developing our European Economic Interest Grouping (EEIG). Watch this space!

Find out more about Entomochef here, like them on Facebook, or follow them on Twitter.