Kristopher Edelen, “The Cricket Chef”
ristopher Edelen, also known as Chef KPE, launched HOTPANnyc, a pop-up catering company in New York City dedicated to native, post-modern cuisine, in February 2014. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America who has been featured on the Food Network’s “Chopped” and “Cutthroat Kitchen,” Chef Edelen’s culinary goals center on helping our world rebuild itself using methods from our prehistoric diets, including foraging, sustainable farming, fishing, hunting and even entomophagy (eating insects).
He is known for his modern dishes based on classic traditions using multi-sensory, sustainable ingredients. Chef Edelen is also an active member of the Leadership Committee for GenR (short for Generation Rescue), a subdivision of the humanitarian organization International Rescue Committee (IRC).
What is your culinary background?
KE: My first, formal introduction to the culinary industry was during my CIA externship at Charlie Palmer, a steakhouse located in Washington, D.C. Although my initial choice was the now-closed, two-Michelin-starred Gilt in New York City, I was still thrilled to have landed a position at another, just as highly-esteemed, restaurant. After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America, I went on to become a lead cook at Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s J&G Steakhouse in D.C. (which has since closed).
After a fulfilling experience, I decided to part ways with the intent to diversify my restaurant experience in New York City. I returned home and, undaunted, reached out to the chef at Gilt. Fortunately, in 2012 I was offered a trial run, which went well, and I ended up working there as a cook/tournant until the closing of the restaurant at the end of the year. I then landed a job as sous chef at The Rockefeller University in New York, but my most rewarding experience was yet to come.
In 2013, I was offered an executive sous chef position at Splashlight Studios, an e-commerce studio with a catering/restaurant concept called EET. This experience gave me the opportunity to work with those making waves in both entertainment and fashion, and was a pivotal point in my career. Before I decided to become a chef, I was an art student, and it was only later that I realized food is an another form of art. At Splashlight, I was able to take my food to the next level.
How would you describe your food philosophy at HOTPANnyc?
KE: I would describe it as a culinary concept dedicated to native, post-modern cuisine. I have focused on exploring and learning more about the gastronomy of food and the connection we have with it as a whole. I enjoy being one with nature while finding my food “DNA” by foraging for and working with ingredients like native roots, nuts, fruits, flowers and plants from the local landscape.
It’s a very rewarding activity, and many naturalists believe that many wild plants are more nutritious than cultivated ones. It’s no surprise to me that native tribes, aboriginal people and “wilderness dwellers” who enjoy diets rich in these foods are free of the many chronic diseases like obesity, diabetes, arthritis and heart conditions that plague us in today’s society.
How did you learn to forage and what tips do you have to share?
KE: At the CIA, my buddies and I would go deep into the woods to forage for things like ramps, various mushrooms, wild greens and more. After verifying with professional foragers that they were safe to eat, we would donate these items back to our school’s restaurants — it was pretty cool to have some wild ingredients on the menu as specials. My product knowledge class really helped me to identify native species and the different characteristics of vegetables and fruits.
From there, I started researching other edible wild plants, but I came up short in the beginning. The first time I went out into Inwood Hill Park, I was there for three hours and came back with nothing. To try to improve my foraging skills, I took classes with a local forager, “Wildman” Steve Brill. Steve helped point out what’s edible and what’s not, and I was like, “I stood in the woods for three hours looking at the same plants!” I didn’t realize what I had beneath my feet.
Steve and his daughter Violet have since taken me to many parks, even in New York City, such as Central Park, Prospect Park and Saxon Woods. I now regularly forage for wild ingredients for all of my events. If you interested in foraging I recommend you do your research as there is a wide variety of poisonous species and some of the plant identifications have look-alikes. If you go foraging with a local forager/naturalist you’ll be able to learn about and identify different plants much quicker.
Your business has grown tremendously since you started it. What are you most proud of and what are you looking forward to in 2018?
KE: I’m most proud of my brand partnerships and of my established client base. This year, I will be the Chef-In-Residence at Villa Lena Via Toiano, Italy, which hosts many artists and creative-types looking to enjoy the beautiful Tuscan countryside throughout the summer and fall. The on-site Villa Lena restaurant, where I will work, is a farm-to-table concept with fresh ingredients grown in the local gardens and sourced from local producers.
This year, You presented at ChefConnect: Charlotte in February. How did that go?
KE: ChefConnect was a wonderful experience. I am happy to have received great feedback from the chefs who attended my demo on using alternative protein sources such as crickets, which I call the “Gateway Bug” to eating more sustainable protein instead of cows. I made a nitro-aerated ice cream with a cricket crunch towards the end of my presentation and everyone loved the sample.
Many agreed that it’s all about “mind over matter” when it comes to cooking with and eating insects like crickets. I was ecstatic. I also had a real cricket farm on display during the demo created by my friend Ashley Marie Quinn from Home Grown, which teaches people how to grow your own protein sources — like crickets — at home.
Overall, I enjoyed being able to teach more about the health, agricultural and sustainability properties that native ingredients and insects provide in our diets as well as the benefits they have for our planet. When prepared in a modern, gastronomical way, crickets are delicious!