Queen Bee (see what I did there?)

By Leah Bessa

The past few years have turned out to be an exceptionally interesting journey for me. A few years ago people wouldn’t trust anything I brought to a dinner party and now, with Gourmet Grubb, we are getting requests worldwide for our Bug Ice Cream. I don’t think, even in my wildest dreams, I could have predicted such a rapid shift in acceptance.

I started my journey with Entomophagy a few years back (2014 to be exact), when I decided it would be a grand idea to do my Masters in Food Science and research the potential of insects as a food source for human consumption. Seeing as it was a practically unheard of in South Africa, I began by helping my supervisor hand-rear a variety of different insect species to see which would work best. Despite what you may think, I was in fact pretty squeamish and spent a large amount of my time building weird makeshift contraptions to feed the insects so that I wouldn’t have to reach into the cockroach ‘cages’ and risk them climbing up my arm! Over the past 3 years – from chasing run-away cockroaches and crickets around the lab to ultimately processing larvae into edible, delicious vienna sausages – I developed a genuine passion for these tiny little critters that have the potential to solve the inevitable food security crisis.
Not long after my studies I crossed paths with Jean, an old friend who turned out to be the catalyst that this little nerd needed to take insects out of the lab and into the world. After much convincing, planning and one corporate job later, we launched Gourmet Grubb. We had no idea if the world was ready for it, but we were determined to make sure it was.

It all began in our kitchen. Jean and I lived in the same house at the time and spent countless hours creating and making insect-based bars in our kitchen. We also thought it would be a brilliant idea to farm our own mealworms at home, until we ran out of space and got tired of finding mealworms everywhere, even in our shoes and clothes. One brave little mealworm even managed to secure a trip to Mauritius with Jean who, upon landing, unpacked his bag and found this ambitious critter in his clothes.

After much exploration, we met a very special individual who, through an enlightening conversation, guided us in changing our approach. Soon after, EntoMilk™ was born. Once again, we took to our kitchen, which by this stage had turned into an impromptu lab, and started developing our EntoMilk™ from an insect I worked extensively with in my studies, the Black Soldier Fly Larvae. Whilst developing this milk, we tried to figure out a way to introduce the concept and product to people in an easy and exciting way. We impulsively bought a small ice cream maker and took to experimenting with EntoMilk™-based ice cream. Much like any other small business owners, we used our family and friends as guinea pigs. We fed our ice cream to everyone and, with their feedback and encouragement, we decided to go forward with it as our first product available to the public.
Around the same time we were accepted to be a part of the Design Indaba 2018 and desperately needed some sort of brand identity. Llewelyn, an old friend of Jean’s, came to the rescue and with his exceptional designs and ideas he ended up becoming an integral part of the team. To this day, his talent and expertise has been essential to Gourmet Grubb’s brand and identity.
Through a connection we made at the Design Indaba, we exhibited at an art gallery in Cape Town. Unbeknownst to us we’d meet the fourth member of the Gourmet Grubb team that night. Thomas has become a truly important part of the team at a time when the media hype and attention hit us full on. He continues to boldly walk this path with us.

As it stands, I’m back at it, doing my PhD in Food Science using insects as a food source. I’m amazed at how insects have become such a popular topic in the food sector, albeit still at the conversation level. Gourmet Grubb has taken off at a rate neither Jean or I expected, but the four of us look forward to the journey that lies ahead.

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