Two chefs have taken the trend of buying and eating locally to new heights - up 10 floors above their restaurant, where they have three bee hives producing local honey for their menu.
High up on the rooftop of the Fairmont Hotel in the heart of Washington, executive sous chef Ian Bens and executive pastry chef Aron Weber are tending to honeybees.
"All these bees have been out getting nectar and now they’re coming in and they want to get back in the hive,” says Bens.
He and Weber wanted to have access to fresh, local honey to use in their daily menus for the hotel’s restaurant. So, two and a half years ago, they installed three bee hives on the roof and have been harvesting the liquid gold ever since.
They estimate about 60,000 to 90,000 honeybees take up residence in each hive at the height of nectar flow, which is from May through late July.
Each hive is made up of a number of wooden boxes which are stacked one on top of the other.
The bottom supers, which are usually deeper than the rest, house the queen bee, and her brood of baby bees.
The worker bees use the supers above that to store most of the honey they make.
Each super contains 10 rectangular frames in which the bees build a wax honeycomb. They use the structure for housing the queen’s eggs and storing honey and pollen to eat. As each comb is filled with honey, the bees seal it with wax, and continue to move higher up the hive, filling new frames of honeycomb.
The Fairmont’s rooftop bees travel up to five kilometers to collect nectar and pollen from plants and flowers in Washington’s parks and gardens.
Every month or so, during the warm weather, Bens and Weber remove the frames that have been filled and capped, to harvest the honey.
After the harvest, the chefs bring the box of honey-filled combs to their kitchen for extraction.
Bens uses a special warming knife to remove the thin layer of wax that the bees have formed on top of the honey. The beeswax will later be used to create natural skin products like lip balm, sunscreen and facial scrubs for the hotel's VIP guests.
Once the cells of honey have been uncapped, Weber takes the prepared frames to the extracting machine. He places them, two at a time, into what looks like a giant metal can, and turns the handle on top to set them spinning.
“What we’re going to do now is we have both frames in there, and we’re going to start spinning it, as we spin, the honey is going to go down the outside and drip down to the bottom,” Weber says.
This method helps the comb stay intact within the frame so it can be reused by the bees.
This afternoon’s extraction yields about 22 kilos of fresh honey which the Fairmont chefs will start incorporating into their menu.
Today, they pair it with local, artisanal cheeses for a savory cheese platter and also mix it into praline ice cream as a dessert offering.
They also use their harvest in the hotel’s signature BeeTini, a unique concoction made with vanilla vodka and fresh lemon juice.
Since Bens and Weber set up their hives, other hotels across the U.S. and around the world have been inspired to turn to beekeeping as a healthy and environmentally sustainable alternative for fresh, local honey.
Bens sees this as a growing trend.
“People are going back to nature. You can see it especially on the East Coast and West Coast. You see it in New York City. Urban beekeeping, I think, is huge. I think as we live more in cities we realize how much nature is important to us.”
So far this season, which started in May, Bens and Weber have collected about 45 kilos of honey for their culinary specialties. They expect their growing harvest to keep coming up sweet for years to come.