Meet the New York chef who wants to change our diets one bug at a time

Sayoko Seijin is using food to make a point and is thought to be the first person to look at insects as a possible food source Meet the New York chef who wants to…

Meet the New York chef who wants to change our diets one bug at a time

Sayoko Seijin is using food to make a point and is thought to be the first person to look at insects as a possible food source

Meet the New York chef who wants to change our diets one bug at a time

Chef Sayoko Seijin will first and foremost be remembered for his notoriety at the 2016 London Cocktail Invitational Awards. But there is another reason the Japanese-born chef was greeted with such acclaim.

During the cocktail competition he served up insect-based food for the first time – handmade fried caterpillars, black scrod with puréed cockroaches and a fried cricket that had served in a leather sack and metamorphosed into a piece of toast. And it was one of his breakfast bugs, the red ants imported from Thailand, that led him to conceive the idea of using bug food for the first time.

Now, as the first chef to do so, Sayoko has become a pioneer and his spread of insect-based dishes to destinations including UK, Germany, Poland and Italy has shocked, upset and then won over restaurant critics. But he is now looking to change the current perception of insects, by looking at them in a different light.

“I was surrounded by people who were ‘against it’ so to speak,” he told the Guardian. “Some told me ‘Eat insects? That doesn’t sound healthy. You don’t need to do that.’ ‘What the hell are you thinking?’ They all had different reasons. ‘It’s disgusting.’ ‘It’s animal byproduct.’ ‘It has to look good.’ ‘It has to look nice to you,’” he said, showing how one of his creations had been scooped up by the Guardian and saved in a jar.

Insan, a personal chef who worked in the prestigious Michelin-starred La Tante Claire in New York, discovered insects were good for your health through the UK company Hack the Planet, which encouraged him to visit countries where bugs were eaten as a luxury. Sayoko, who like many Japanese people hasn’t always eaten insects, found the fact that meat, “the most famous” part of their diet, was fed on crops containing bugs to be odd.

“There is no barrier because we have crossed from four to three vertebrates [eaters],” he said. “We need to leave our human identity and truly think, as adults, about eating insects.”

Sayoko Seijin. Photograph: David Yeo

He found out that 3 million people in UK eat insects in Thailand and believes it is a waste of potential for the insects to “fly over to North America, leave and come back”.

“People in Europe are open to the idea,” he said. “When we come over from Japan, they would say: ‘What the hell are you doing? Why are you living in a country that eats bugs?’ I think it’s a great idea for this region and we must support this idea.”

Among the bug products Sayoko eats are barbecued green bread with cricket salt and ground up sunflower seeds that he has used to serve pepper jelly, where diced peppers are mixed with sunflower oil and ground up sunflower seeds and fried.

He said: “At first I thought it was kind of like eating peanuts, but it has turned out to be very healthy. People think insects are man-eatable and that’s a problem,” he said. “Now they’re looking for a way to use insects on a plant-based basis.”

When Sayoko visited Thailand he met Thai chefs who had taken insects from the plains and produced these refined foods. These chefs had done this by using processing methods that involved using conventional methods and modern technology.

“The whole country did it and I found it interesting. In the US, there are a lot of adults who are eating them.”

If you want to try this new kind of dish, Sayoko will be speaking at the Oxford Microwave Show on 14 August at the Old Mead at Farnham College

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