RCL Exclusive

Meet the Private Chef Who’s Turning Insects Gourmet

Chef Don Peavy, who's cooked for the likes of Madonna and the Obamas, is a pioneer in entomophagy.

Food and Drink By

Don Peavy prefers to freeze cockroaches to death before he eats them. It’s more humane that way, he explains on a recent Friday afternoon in Manhattan. Plus, there’s no chance they’ll scurry away while he’s sprinkling them into a pot of boiling, expectant water.

“They’re very resilient,” Peavy smiles, popping a raw roach into his mouth and remarking on how, underneath the hideous exterior, they are delicious. “That’s why God made them so ugly. Otherwise, they’d be extinct.”

Peavy, known professionally as ChefPV, didn’t plan on cooking up insects when he moved to New York more than 20 years ago. In fact, he wasn’t planning on being a chef at all, even though he’s gone on to serve up five-star meals for the likes of Madonna, Spike Lee, Mariah Carey and the Obamas. With a degree in communications and a background in the entertainment world, it wasn’t until Peavy got out of reality TV and started hanging around a vegetarian spot called Phoebe’s Cafe in Williamsburg more than a decade ago that he was rejected from, and then ultimately landed, his first job in a kitchen.

“[The owner’s] sweatshop wages couldn’t attract the top-notch talent he sought, so he came crawling up to me one day while I was hanging at the cafe and decided to give me a shot,” Peavy says. “Thus, my chef career began.”

A lot has happened since. As a chef in the city, some restaurants Peavy worked in had the negative atmosphere the public associates with Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen NightmaresCooking for individual clients and families provided different challenges, and Peavy tapped into his love for people to make it work.

“Being a private chef, you have to do more than cook,” he explains. “You kind of have to be a nanny if the client has kids, a psychologist because people always want to chat with the chef — and mo’ money, mo’ problems —and you’ve got to just love people overall.”

A bowl of raw cockroaches, waiting to be cooked. (Diana Crandall)

You also have to love bugs if you want to get as deep in the weeds with them as Peavy is. He’s a pioneer in the field of entomophagy, which is the human use of insects as food, and he loves to tell anyone who will listen about it. Using his entertainment experience to his advantage, he regularly appears as the resident chef on the Ento Nation podcast and starred in his own video web series, Buggin’ Outwhich combines a ton of education disguised by a Fear Factor-esque shock value viewers will have a hard time looking away from. In some episodes, Peavy tromps through the woods with experts, learning the safe way to capture and eat fresh bugs. In others, he tests the toxicity of scorpion venom before deep-frying them for dessert.

There is one characteristic that shines through all of Peavy’s work, including in the kitchen where he’s alternating between boiling, blending, and frying up cockroaches for his La Cucaracha Noodle Soup in Dubia-Pesto Broth: His enthusiasm, for people, cooking and especially cooking bugs, is infectious.

“Do you want to try some?” If you live in the Western world, you likely didn’t before. But spend a few minutes watching and smelling Peavy at work, and your attitude has likely changed. It’s something he’s counting on.

“I think the primary reason we in the West don’t currently
include insects in our diets has a lot to do with how our industrialized agricultural system works,” Peavy says. “Insects are seen as the enemy of our crops, and I think over time we’ve adopted a hatred of them because they threaten our food supplies.  I also think in entertainment, bugs are not
portrayed in a positive light and much of our training of how to be in
the world comes from media.”

He continues: “For myself, I’m focused on food sovereignty, which for me means having more control over my food source, and raising insects can be easier than raising vegetables and traditional meats.  Also, if we can create a pro-insect agricultural system, I think we’ll find ourselves
free of the chemicals used in our Western pest control efforts, and we
may see our entire agricultural output become healthier.”

It’s important to know that if you do decide to “try it” — whether that’s bugs in general or cockroaches specifically — take care in choosing where they come from.

“The easiest bug to taste is the one you have access to,” Peavy says, but “please remember, you can’t just go eating any old cockroach from the kitchen or bathroom. Unless you have connections in China, the only place I feel comfortable recommending for getting roaches to try for yourself is from a company called Dubiaroaches.com.”

With the right chef to prepare roaches, even those with the most serious cases of katsaridaphobia will be surprised at just how scrumptious they are.

Take a look at the video below to watch how ChefPV prepared the dish, and find him online at lainsectivore.com. For a copy of the recipe, click here.

Additional reporting and taste-testing by Rebecca Gibian.