The Bees Knees
It's the Bees Knees Atop Manhattan's Legendary Waldorf-Astoria Hotel
Anyone interested in the current craze for bee keeping should high-tail it (or buzz on over, if you excuse the pun) to the world renowned Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in midtown where six hives have been installed on the 20th floor and house thousands of bees who are happily foraging for pollen as far away as Central Park, but not one city block farther. City bees, it turns out, like to stay close to home. But then again, if you call the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel home, why would you stray far from your hive? The views are spectacular and this must have a lot do with the fact that the bees, since they were installed in their hives in April, have produced a prodigious amount of honey which was harvested this month.
Only in New York would a prestige hotel install prestige bees for the sole purpose of producing prestige honey to use an ingredient for its sweets. These bees are special. They were selected from various apiaries in the Northeast by the hotel's resident bee keeper, who happens to be a Connecticut native. We joined Andrew, the hotel's hired gun for bee keeping, one morning this month to participate in the first honey harvest of the hotel's bees. Since each hive houses 60,000 to 75,000 honey bees (there is a distinction between honey bees and big fat bumble bees, we learned), 150-200 pounds of honey are to be expected from each harvest, which is a bi-annual event.
The process of harvesting honey is quite simple, once you're suited up in protective gear necessary to fend off pesky bees who don't like being "smoked" and prefer to act up. Not that honey bees are aggressive to begin with, but once they know that someone is getting into their hive with a smoker (the smoke acts like a sedative), they know that something's up and they send out a signal to their fellow drones. By the time we reached the second hive and started to take out the trays which were filled with lots of nectar, the smoke was no longer being effective and bees were buzzing.
Once the trays have been removed from the top level of the wooden hive, they are scrapped with a dull knife to get rid of the excess wax (which can be used for soap and lip balm) which protects the honey. The trays are then spun around and around in a canister to get the honey off. Then the trays are replaced and the bees go at it again for a few more months until the next harvest is ready to "spin off". It's that easy. Bees hibernate during the winter months, buzzing inside their hive to stay warm and feeding off the excess honey from the trays.
The best part was tasting the delicious sweets and treats that Executive Chef David Garcelon and his culinary team prepared for us after we'd removed our hats, gloves and jackets and re-located to the hotel kitchen, which spans one full city block. Chef Garcelon is smitten with the bees and is spearheading the hotel's initiative to bring in more local and eco-friendly ingredients into the recipes and menus.
Some of the honey-inspired recipes that we tasted, and that hotel guests can enjoy at various food and beverage outlets in the hotel and room service, include Honey Granola, Field and Forest Mushroom Chowder with Honey, Strawberry Shortcake with Honey and Belgian Waffle with delicious Honey Ice Cream.