The sun is setting in Princeton, New Jersey, and Joseph Yoon is plucking cicadas off the grave of Aaron Burr. Princeton Cemetery is the final resting place of the infamous politician who killed Alexander Hamilton. This May and June, it’s also been home to a group of Brood X cicadas. On this night, cicada nymphs crawl across 18th-century stone engravings, adults flutter from grave to grave, and empty, molted shells crunch underfoot. The cemetery is an apt location for the group: After living for 17 years underground as nymphs, Brood X cicadas emerge for a mere few weeks to mature, mate, lay eggs, and die.
During this brief window, Yoon is on a mission to collect cicadas across their life stages. The insects’ destination? His kitchen. A professional chef, Yoon is a passionate advocate for incorporating insects into one’s diet. His company, Brooklyn Bugs, has provided insect feasts for museums, universities, and private events, with everything from tarantulas to grasshoppers to tobacco hornworms on the menu. He views Brood X, which appears in massively high numbers estimated at up to 1.4 million per acre in hotspots, as an exciting opportunity to show the breadth of insect-based cuisine.
Over the past few weeks, Yoon’s Brooklyn apartment has been transformed into something of an edible-insect lab. (His freezer is so packed with cicadas that he secured a separate storage freezer for the rest.) When he’s not shuttling back and forth from Princeton to collect samples, he is experimenting with different preparations, ranging from fermenting to baking to coating in chocolate and gold leaf.