From Singapore to the USA and all around Europe, Edible Innovations profiles food makers that engage in improving the global food system at every stage, from production to distribution to eating and shopping. Join us as we explore the main trends in the industry from a maker perspective. Chiara Cecchini of Future Food Institute — an ecosystem with a strong educational core that promotes food innovation as a key tool to tackle the great challenges of the future — introduces you to the faces, stories, and experiences of food makers around the globe. Check back on Tuesdays and Thursdays for new installments.
Today we meet with a disruptor, a food maker who has been reshaping the food industry and, more specifically, the protein industry. Lee Cadesky is a food scientist, engineer, passionate foodie, and maker. He loves to experiment with food in his home-lab. When I asked him to describe himself, he told me: “I’m me. I’m a guy from Canada who’s really interested in food, science, and engineering and has a freezer full of bugs.” Let’s hear what his story is about!
Lee, you have been at Maker Faire Rome with us. Can you tell us more about your story and your project?
Sure! One Hop Kitchen is really the later part of our story, it started with our wholesale supply company, C-fu FOODS. In 2014, I was a grad student at Cornell studying food science and focusing my research of rheology, the study of texture. A friend had been trying to get people to participate in a start-up competition called Thought for Food that was looking for innovative ways to improve food security. I’d just written a paper about surimi, a kind of generic term for restructured fish protein that’s in a ton of different products (mock crab, fishballs, fishcakes, etc) and had been thinking about insects as a possible source of food. Since insects are similar to shellfish in terms of their biology, I wanted to see if we could make surimi from them as a way to make meat substitutes from insect protein. I got a team together and we developed some prototypes and started exploring the whole landscape of edible insects. I started C-fu FOODS, an ingredient company in 2015 along with my brother, Eli. A year later, we were looking for a way to get our insect meat replacer, something we call ‘Textured Insect Protein’ (TIP) into a product that could really replace a meat product on the market and we landed on Bolognese sauce. We got some designers together and worked with a chef to develop a recipe and One Hop Kitchen was born!
Wow! When did you realize that this was actually a really good idea?
Launching One Hop Kitchen was a really deliberate idea. We wanted to solve a technical problem: how could we make a product that would use our textured insect protein to replace meat but also be familiar, shelf-stable, come in a clear package so customers could see what they bought before purchase, and be something we could manufacture ourselves. If you put those restrictions on your development there are only really two products you can make: pickled sausages or Bolognese sauce. We’re still working on the pickled sausages. We went through a lot of iterations to develop the brand for OHK and are lucky to have two great marketers on our team (Jeff Topol and Pete Ross) who did everything from naming the company to designing the brand and labels. Running a wholesale company is a lot different than operating one that interacts directly with a final customer. Bolognese is just the beginning for One Hop Kitchen, we’ve got a lot of new ideas in the pipeline.
And when did you realize that this idea could actually work?
We launched the product at a trade show in Toronto in 2016 and were just inundated with people who wanted to sample it. We got a bunch of press and the product tasted great too. I think we realized then that there really could be a market for insect foods and that they could make a real impact on how we think about food and implement sustainable eating.
Can you tell us more about the sauce and the process to make it?
I started with a fairly simple recipe as a basic prototype and we worked with a consulting chef for our first formulations. We learned about the importance of great ingredients and, as we developed, reworked our supply chain to make sure we were getting the best quality crickets and mealworms available, and, maybe more importantly, the best quality tomatoes. We make the product just like a classic Bolognese and want it to feel like a classic pasta sauce. We start with extra virgin olive oil and a finely chopped sofrito of carrots, celery, onions, and garlic. We’re passionate about making insect a part of regular cuisine and that’s as true for our customers that are serving this to their families as it is for us when we make it. We’ve refined the recipe over time and are always looking for ways to improve.
What drove you to start this project, and, more importantly, how did you make it through difficult moments?
The main driver for me is the sheer gastronomic potential of insects as food. There are thousands of edible species (maybe even millions!) and a huge variety too. I’ve been astounded at just how different one can taste from another, the opportunity for exploration really keeps me going and being able to interact with customers regularly as part of One Hop Kitchen is a great motivator. Working with my brother has also been great for moral support. We’ve been in it together from the start and we share every long night and all the hard work. It helps to have someone like that who sticks by your side and to know that you can fall back on them in tough times. We’ve seen some rough times and had some crazy nights working with crickets on various projects. Having gone through enough hard moments it’s a big motivation now when things are tough. Now I often see challenges as think, “This is hard, but you’ve done hard things before, you’ll do this one too.”
How can other makers build off of your work?
We love working with other people interested in sustainable and exciting food. Our goal with our ingredient company is really to support collaboration, and we’ve worked as a partner (or just a friend) to a lot of other companies that are making insect food products. If you’re a maker in food, reach out. We’d love to chat!