Fried Cricket Stand at the Texas State Fair?
July 22, 2013 7:55 PM   Subscribe

This is an idea I've had for a while and was just sparked again with the FPP on the blue about the Iowa state fair. The UN Food and Agricultural Organization has put out a report encouraging people to eat more insects for environmental and health reasons. To that end, there is a company called Chapul that makes energy bars with crickets as the main ingredient. The company is aiming to capture the active, crunchy, environmentalist demographic who are aware of these issues as the primary consumers of its products. Now, that may not be a good description of the typical Texas State Fair visitor, but a fried cricket stand would certainly (I think) fit in with the tradition of outrageous fried food there, and in my opinion it would be a revitalizing breath of fresh air for the tradition, given that just about every unhealthy food item has already been fried at this point. Personally, I would be pretty excited about trying fried crickets if I knew they were safe, though I've always had a very adventurous palate. I'm just not at all sure how to turn this idea into reality.

Should I try to contact Chapul and see if I can manage to talk someone important there into helping me? Kickstarter seems like it would be a good way to raise funds because Kickstarter projects are supposed to be about something larger than just generating a return for investors, and this would be a pretty risky endeavor financially speaking. But that's getting ahead of myself, since you already have to have a definite roadmap from concept to reality in order to for Kickstarter to be of any use, and right now this is just an idea in my head. I've thought of reaching out to the entrepreneur's club at UT Dallas, but I'm not sure how to do that in a persuasive and effective way. What does the hive mind think about all of this?
posted by bookman117 to Food & Drink (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
As a data point, one of my kids is a picky eater but recently went on a field trip to a local university where she got to eat a freeze-dried honeybee, and she got a huge kick out of it. When I told her I'd just listened to a thing on NPR about eating bugs, she was very excited about the idea of making this happen in our house as soon as possible.

Tim Ferriss talks about incorporating insects, specifically crickets, into a normal diet in his most recent book. We're seriously thinking about trying his chocolate chip/cricket cookie recipe.

I think a state fair would be a pretty ideal venue for this sort of endeavor, given that the whole food aspect is tied into the crazy-risk-taking-ride-riding aspect.

I vote for: worth digging deeper.
posted by padraigin at 8:03 PM on July 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

Well, it seems interesting, but I think you really should consider the sort of foods that the Texas State Fair tends to fry. Usually people are trying to make an even BIGGER calorie bomb. I think the appeal for all the fried foods at the fair isn't how crazy or how wacky it is, but rather the fact that you can get a plate that's basically serving up heart attacks, clogged arteries, and diabetes. The "outrageous" fried foods there really are just foods we already know that have been dipped in batter and deep fried.

I just don't see how you're going to get the average State Fair visitor to eat the crickets when there's going to be something like a deep fried bacon milkshake or something else that sounds as crazy. Sure there's the whole, "I ate a cricket!" angle, but like you've already said, the average Texas State Fair visitor won't care about the actual environmentalist bent you seem to be looking for.

For what it's worth, fried crickets aren't that tasty either...
posted by astapasta24 at 8:15 PM on July 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

FWIW I can't wait to try fried cricket. But I'm the sort of person who eats the crunchy shrimp tail from stir fry and tempura. I imagine fried cricket will taste like a crunchy shrimp tail, but better. Mmmmm fried cricket....

But I'm not from Texas, so....

Can you pair with a food truck that is already doing fried items [chicken, fries, onions...]?
posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:23 PM on July 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Batter them and dust with powdered sugar, drizzle with chocolate and it sounds perfect for the fair as long as it's marketed correctly! There could very well be a better place for more adventurous foods though.

Not everything at the Tx state fair is high calorie to start with. I'm sure the cactus last year had some nutritional value before it was battered and fried...
posted by missriss89 at 8:28 PM on July 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

My guess based on big events I've been involved with is that the state fairs have a committee that handles all the food vendors.

The big question for fried crickets is whether the food booths are a "you pay, you're welcome to do whatever food you want" type of thing, or whether you have to apply and be selected.

If the former, it's really just a matter of getting the money together to do a booth. If you're right that you can get people to eat deep-fried grasshoppers as a novelty, you'll make your money back. If you're wrong, you're out the overhead of the ingredients, equipment, supplies, labor, and the space rental fee.

If the latter, you'll have to start by working to impress the food committee members and convince them to select your insect fritters over the deep fried Dr Pepper, or bacon on a stick, or whatever.

It seems to me that it would be a lot easier to start small and do a local block party or county fair or something rather than the Texas State Fair. Because at the smaller types of festivals, you probably can just pay a booth fee and try your hand at selling fried bugs. And the overhead is probably a lot lower. Then, if you do well, you'll have ammo for the big state fair food committee.

(If you're not sure you can convince a college club to help you spitball ideas, I'm not sure your idea really has legs. Pun totally intended.)
posted by Sara C. at 8:34 PM on July 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

When I was growing up, the jellied grasshoppers in the Jams, Jellies, and Preserves display at the New Mexico State Fair were always must-see. And the carnival environment of the State Fair seems just the place to introduce actually eating them. People will be daring each other to eat them, and then telling other people about the experience. I think this seems like a great idea. Tacos de chapulĂ­n!
posted by pickypicky at 9:00 PM on July 22, 2013

It seems like an interesting idea, but I'm not sure how well it would (fiscally) go over. I've lived nearby, and much of the charm for me and my friends was the idea of some familiar unhealthy-but-tasty food I know as now FRIED and DELICIOUS and EVEN MORE UNHEALTHY. On the other hand, crickets are intrinsically not something the majority of the Texan population will view as FAMILIAR and TASTY so you'll have to overcome that barrier.

Contacting Chapul can't hurt, but it looks like they themselves turned to Kickstarter last year just to get things up and running so they may not have the same capacity as bigger, more established companies to help financially back you. It's likely you yourself would end up funding most or all of this out of pocket. Like others have said, it might be easier to start small -- perhaps see if you can tap into the student market at UTD/UTA/UNT or other schools like UT/Rice which skew more liberal? Those are places where the environmentalist and daring cuisine angles might have a better shot.
posted by angst at 9:01 PM on July 22, 2013

Have you ever tasted any cooked insects? Cuz they're not nearly as tasty as one might think. The weird factor is one thing, but the yum factor is another. How do vendors at the fair get their spaces? How many years in advance do they have to apply? You can probably get the company to hand out free samples.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:12 PM on July 22, 2013

I've had cricket cookies, your basic Toll House cookie with no chocolate chips and with roasted crickets on the top. Not bad in any way, but nothing special. Mostly just crunchy, and with little chitinous bits.

According to this page which has a dry-roasted cricket recipe, they go off quickly when killed, so you'd have to keep them alive until you're ready to cook. They're cold-blooded critters, so you can slow them way down with cold temperatures.

That page has a link to a place on the same site where you can buy the crickets, and man, they are cheap! It makes me want to fill my pockets with crickets and get up to some shenanigans!

Based on that, I think I'd get them cooked and toss them in a coating, and they'd be eaten like corn nuts-- flavor with ranch or bbq flavor as munchies.
posted by Sunburnt at 9:22 PM on July 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

How would you cook em? First things first.
posted by oceanjesse at 10:36 PM on July 22, 2013

> Have you ever tasted any cooked insects? Cuz they're not nearly as tasty as one might think. The weird factor is one thing, but the yum factor is another.

I really don't think this matters. Just in terms of awareness (and revenue), you want people to try the food, not come back for seconds and thirds and tenths. Do people hang around a certain booth at a state fair and eat that booth's food over and over again? No, they walk around and try different things. Even if fried crickets aren't superlatively delicious, I think the "omg fried bugs let's try some!" factor is going to trump the "let's just hang out at the cricket booth and fill up" factor.

I think this is a great idea, and I hope you can make it happen.
posted by Maximian at 12:16 AM on July 23, 2013

The TX State Fair has a mandatory formal application process. If it's anything like the MN state fair, it's incredibly competitive and people wait for years to try to get on the approved list. It's also very expensive.

I agree with whoever suggested trying to start with smaller festivals/fairs first. Something as big as the TX state fair is not going to give prime vending space to a vendor with no experience.

Things to consider: insurance, food service training, fees (inspection, licensing, etc.), equipment (you need an approved kitchen setup, safe food storage, possibly the cost of a portable food cart or kitchen-equipped trailer, hand-washing space, signs, cash register/merchant account)

One way to get your foot in the door a little more easily than as a full-fledged food vendor might be to try to get in as a commercial exhibit selling pre-packaged grasshopper-based food products like energy bars, preseasoned trailmix-type stuff, etc. See page 5+ of this pdf
posted by belladonna at 7:05 AM on July 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think you need to go with one or at most two options, and a good bet would be to pair something familiar with your crickets.

Savoury: bacon crickets. It's bacon. You're allaying fears that they're going to taste terrible because how bad can bacon get? Wrap the bacon round the crickets.

Sweet: caramel crickets. Think like caramel peanuts.

If it were me, and assuming it didn't raise legal problems I'd call my business "Jimny's" (intentionally spelled this way) or The Locust Eaters.
posted by MuffinMan at 8:47 AM on July 23, 2013

The article I read today about Chapul seemed to say they use "ground cricket flour" in their energy bars. You can't fry "ground cricket flour" so I don't know how much they could help you. It doesn't sound like they use live insects.
posted by tacodave at 2:28 PM on July 23, 2013

You can't fry "ground cricket flour" so I don't know how much they could help you.

Well, you could do some kind of fritter or hush puppy with it, I guess. Which would probably be more palatable to the average county fair-goer, if a little less dare-worthy.
posted by Sara C. at 2:32 PM on July 23, 2013

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