When sustainability is on par with taste, it shows. From sourcing responsibly to utilizing local organics, a dish created with a conscience speaks volumes to not only a restaurant’s ethics, but its ability to form an elevated experience for guests. These days, everything matters—even how and where you get your honey. For this reason, Orange County restaurants have called in some help from their cohorts in black and yellow.
BEEKEEPING IS ABOUT MORE THAN JUST GOING GREEN, it’s about recognizing the vital role that the honeybee holds in the future of food and putting that awareness into action. With almost a third of the dinner plate composed of the honeybees’ hard work, OC chefs like Chef David Slay of Park Ave and Chef Joel Delmond of Westin Mission Hills have used their green thumbs to design ideal apiaries for their bees. The result: a win-win exchange — with the honeybees protected in a controlled environment; yielding rich and unpurified gold, jam-packed with nutrients.
“Whether you’re getting lettuce right out of the ground, milk right out of the cows or honey straight from the bees in the boxes – it’s naturally going to be better than anything bought from the store,” says Chef David.
Park Ave’s apiary is tucked away on a private, five-acre spread of land in Stanton holding over 600,000 bees. Their bees produce wildflower honey, which has a thick, golden hue similar to that of its relatives. It’s the perfect complement to the expansive menu featuring honey in ice cream, sponge cake, sauces, butter, biscuits, and more.
Eight years into professional beekeeping, Park Ave has contributed to this culinary
movement in more than just honey production. Last year, they loaned hives at no cost to almond farmers up in Bakersfield in need of pollination. Almond farming has been hit hard by the bee population decline and hive sharing has taken off in the food production and service industry, where community aid is seen as more than just neighborly, it’s a way of life.
We rely on bees just as much as we rely on each other. They are as vital to the food system as farmers. And although the beekeeping business can stir up anxiety of being stung, Chef Joel says it has been more rewarding than he could have ever imagined.
The Westin Mission Hills’ apiary resides in a secluded area on the resort surrounded by flowers, fruit trees and herbs that provide sustenance for the worker bees. Chef harvests twice a year—enough to infuse honey into such menu items as the Dilbert’s Honey, White Chocolate, Macadamia Nut Cookies or their signature beer collaborated with a local brewery called, “Dilbert’s Honey Brew,” served on tap at their bars. Chef Joel said it’s all about balancing out the flavors of the honey while enhancing subtleties in each individual dish for a one-of-a-kind dining experience.
“When guests find out that we have bees and the Chef is the actual beekeeper, they are fascinated and inspired,” Chef Joel says. “Almost always, a lengthy discussion follows where guests ask lots of questions about it.”
Westin Mission Hills grants private tours of the apiary, where guests discover the incredible work of the honeybee, firsthand.
“By the end of the tour they are absolutely amazed by what honeybees do and how important they are,” says Chef Joel. “Guests leave with a totally different outlook on bees and how they react the next time they see or hear one.”
From hive sharing to guided tours, beekeeping takes the farm-to-table experience to a new level. The sustainable food movement has been long underway and the restaurant and hospitality industry is constantly looking for new ways to make an impact. Beekeeping is an important aspect of sustainability and continues to gain momentum.
A RESTAURATEUR’S PERSPECTIVE
JOEL DELMOND | EXECUTIVE CHEF | WESTIN MISSION HILLS
WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO BECOME A BEEKEEPER? An opportunity presented itself
when our past General Manager wanted to start an apiary about two years ago; I always had some interest but had the idea in reserve for a later
time. The two things holding me back were ignorance and fear (a childhood memory of being stung—no one wants to get stung, right?) I started educating myself with books and working hands-on with the bees taught me the rest.
WHERE DO YOU KEEP YOUR BEES? The bees are located on property, in a secluded area where they will not be bothered nor bother anyone.
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS METHOD (ROOFTOP VS RURAL LOCATION, ETC.)? Our
resort property is spacious so we did not need to consider a rooftop location. We had the perfect area available out of the way from main traffic, so we started making it honeybee friendly by planting flowers, Meyer lemon trees, Valencia Oranges, Mexican sage, red powder puff vine, yellow bells, desert penstemon, palo verde trees,
manzanillo and olives trees. All to provide food and water for the girls (the honeybees).
HOW MANY HIVES DO YOU HAVE, AND HOW MANY BEES INHABIT EACH HIVE? At the
present time we have seven hives with 70,000 to 80,000 bees in each hive.
HOW MANY BEES DO YOU NEED IN ORDER TO YIELD A LEGITIMATE AMOUNT OF HONEY? A
healthy hive of 50,000 honeybees will produce enough honey for your family and friends.
WHAT IS THE PROCESS FOR PROPERLY EXTRACTING THE HONEY FROM THE COMB (TO GET THE GOOD STUFF)? There are 3 methods: either cut the honey out in comb
chunks with a knife; break the cells and let the honey drain or slice just the capping off of the sealed cells and put it in a spinner. We employ the last method, using a heated knife to cut off the wax caps, then placing the frame of the honeycomb in a specially designed centrifuge that spins the honey off of the comb. The honey then drips into a collection tank.
HOW DO YOU TAKE THE HONEYCOMBS FROM THE HIVE? The hives are designed in three
sections – top, center and bottom – with frames that can be removed from the top section only so as not to disrupt the health of the hive. When we harvest the honey, the frames are removed and any bees that remain are brushed away gently with a soft brush.
HOW OFTEN DO YOU HARVEST? Twice a year, early summer & fall.
DO YOU HAVE SOMEONE SPECIFICALLY ASSIGNED TO TEND TO THE BEES OR IS IT A
SHARED EFFORT? It’s a shared effort. I manage the bees; we have an associate knowledgeable in bees who facilitates guest tours of the hives; and, of course, our gardeners tend the ground.
HOW FREQUENTLY DO YOU PURCHASE BEES AND WHERE DO YOU GET YOURS? I only
purchased bees for our first hive with a queen. Typically, we get bees from swarms and increased our number of hives via splits. There are a number of reputable companies who provide bees at a certain time of the year. Some will ship, most will not. I do purchase queens every one to two years, depending on hive behavior.
HOW MUCH DO THEY COST? It varies, a queen and enough bees to start a colony costs around $50. It does require a little investment. For example, we needed equipment that cost $250 plus a “bee suit” that was another $100.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE FOR BEEKEEPING TO “PAY OFF?” When started at the right time,
early spring and with a good queen, nice weather and plenty of food, you will be able to get honey the following fall.
HOW HAS THE EXPERIENCE BEEN SO FAR? More rewarding than I ever imagined. We are able to use delicious honey in several of our dishes and amenities. Our spa uses honey in treatments, too. We have also been able to educate guests about the importance of bees to the environment through the tours we offer.
HOW DO YOU SEE YOUR USE OF BEEKEEPING PROGRESSING OVER TIME? At this time, we are not planning on increasing the number of hives.
The progression is more about:
• Educating people about the importance of honeybees, beekeeping and pollination
• Becoming a better beekeeper
• Informing people of what they can do to contribute to the welfare of honeybees
WHAT ITEMS DO YOU SERVE THAT SHOWCASE YOUR HONEY? Our pizza dough has some honey in it. Our white chocolate macadamia and honey cookies and our smoothies are delicious. A favorite main course is crispy Skuna Bay salmon with blueberries, honey, green beans, red onion, peppers and walnut chutney. We use honey in our brine for
our roasted chicken and our pork loin. Also, our signature Revitalize Green Juice uses honey as well. Finally, we work with a local brewery to provide our honey to make a signature “Dilberts Honey Brew” that we serve on tap in our bars.
WHAT IS THE FLAVOR PROFILE YOU WANT TO ACHIEVE IN THESE DISH(ES)? It’s all
• Enhancing; bringing out other flavors
• Balancing; counteracts the other flavors: spice, bitter, sour, sweet and salty
HOW DO YOU GO ABOUT CREATING HONEY INSPIRED MENU ITEMS? IS THERE AN
EXPERIMENTING PHASE? Yes, and it’s also a team effort. We garner ideas and feedback from the crew.
IS THE DISH/DRINK BASED AROUND THE HONEY OR IS THE HONEY SUPPLEMENTAL? A little of both, but more often supplemental as a supporting ingredient. We also use it as an alternative ingredient to other sweeteners.
WHY NOT JUST USE STORE BOUGHT HONEY? WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE IN QUALITY, FLAVOR, ETC.? It simply does not compare to commercial honey, once you taste the difference you will not go back.
• Honey in its natural state has enzymes, antioxidants, minerals and nutrients that
have not been altered or eliminated with the pasteurization process.
• Levels of chemicals and sustainability also come into play.
DO YOU USE BEE POLLEN IN ANY OF YOUR DISHES? IF SO, WHICH? Yes, breakfast items like our Granola Parfait, smoothies, and juices and salads at lunch.
HOW DO GUESTS RESPOND ONCE THEY KNOW THEIR DISH/DRINK WAS MADE WITH IN-HOUSE HONEY? HOW DO GUESTS REACT DURING THE HONEYBEE TOUR? When guests find out that we have bees and the Chef is the actual beekeeper, they are fascinated. A lengthy discussion where guests ask lots of questions about it almost always follows and ends with guests inquiring about the honeybee tour.
Once I go over the facts about honeybees, how they live, their social behaviors, their lifespan, what they accomplish through pollination (a third of the food we consume is thanks to the honeybee) etc., guests are ready and eager to actually see the bees at work.
By the end of the tour they are absolutely amazed by what honeybees do and how important they are.
DO YOU HAVE ANY FUTURE, HONEY-INSPIRED MENU ITEMS PLANNED? Yes, working on a:
• Baked Rogue River Blue Ltd, with heirloom pickled beets and hazelnut basil honey
• Baguette with triple cream artisanal cheese, crystallized honey and sliced white truffle
DAVID SLAY | CHEF/PROPRIETOR | PARK AVE & IL GARAGE
WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO BECOME A BEEKEEPER? It kind of happened by accident.
We have a garden full of plants and flowers that naturally attracted the bees. We had so many of them—they’re actually tame—so we decided to hire a professional beekeeper to start accumulating them. This is our eighth year.
HOW MANY HIVES DO YOU HAVE, AND HOW MANY BEES INHABIT EACH HIVE? We have
approximately 600,000 bees right now. That’s about 15,000-20,000, per hive.
HOW MANY BEES DO YOU NEED IN ORDER TO YIELD A LEGITIMATE AMOUNT OF HONEY? About as many as we have. That number produces enough honey to harvest.
WHAT IS THE PROCESS FOR PROPERLY EXTRACTING THE HONEY FROM THE COMB
(TO GET THE GOOD STUFF)? They take the combs out of the box and scrape the honey into a container. It’s as simple as it sounds; it takes time and you have to be pretty precise about not leaving too much on the rack.
HOW OFTEN DO YOU HARVEST? It fluctuates, but we’ll typically harvest at least once before the rainy season.
DO YOU HAVE SOMEONE SPECIFICALLY ASSIGNED TO TEND TO THE BEES OR IS IT A
SHARED EFFORT? Louis and Angel, our beekeeper contractors take care of a lot of
different apiaries across Southern California. They’re both farmers and have devoted their lives to bees.
HOW FREQUENTLY DO YOU PURCHASE BEES AND WHERE DO YOU GET YOURS? They
populate themselves; we don’t have to buy any at all. We have an abundant garden with many species of plants that attract a surplus of bees. We’ve been pretty lucky.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE FOR BEEKEEPING TO “PAY OFF?” Fairly quickly. A lot of beekeepers do it for money and a lot of them do it because they care about the bees. Our beekeepers truly care for the bees.
HOW HAS THE EXPERIENCE BEEN SO FAR? Once you start getting into it, you realize that
it’s such an important part of food everywhere—not just in Southern California, but the world. The pollination of the bees and keeping food growing isn’t easy today, especially with all of the chemicals in the air killing them off. People are really passionate about bees right now.
HOW DO YOU SEE YOUR USE OF BEEKEEPING PROGRESSING OVER TIME? We could expand on it. We have another property that we could expand on too.
WHAT ITEMS DO YOU SERVE THAT SHOWCASE YOUR HONEY? Our honey ice cream is really popular. We make a honey and olive oil sponge cake, honey and English mustard sauce for our salmon, honey butter, that is freshly churned and folded in with honey in the end, buttermilk biscuits with honey, and honey wheat loaves. We’ve always used plenty of honey, but we definitely expanded the offerings once we got our bees.
WHAT IS THE FLAVOR PROFILE YOU WANT TO ACHIEVE IN THIS/THESE DISH(ES)? Ours is a lavender honey. Sometimes we’ll infuse it with vanilla or powdered mustard. We like to mix it up, depending on the menu.
HOW DO YOU GO ABOUT CREATING HONEY INSPIRED MENU ITEMS? IS THERE AN
EXPERIMENTING PHASE? Definitely. We experiment a lot. Right now we have a “Bees Knees” Honey Margarita that has no sugar, but uses honey, plus an old fashioned
that’s made with honey.
IS THE DISH/DRINK BASED AROUND THE HONEY OR IS THE HONEY SUPPLEMENTAL?
Honey is the star of the show.
WHY NOT JUST USE STORE BOUGHT HONEY? WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE IN QUALITY,
FLAVOR, ETC.? I haven’t purchased store-bought honey in 10 years. There are so many flavor profiles in honey. It’s like wine, it all depends on the terrior.
DO YOU HAVE ANY IN-HOUSE PLANTS THAT ARE POLLINATED BY THE BEES? IF SO,
WHICH? Basil, lemon trees, orange trees, kumquats, marigolds, sunflowers, African basil—
they swarm those especially.
HOW DO GUESTS RESPOND ONCE THEY KNOW THEIR DISH/DRINK WAS MADE WITH IN-HOUSE HONEY? One thing the guests have gotten to know about us since we started with the garden in general, is that we’re using clean, natural food…They’re intrigued that we’re
growing so many things here and then, when they find out about our bees, it just opens up another conversation.
DO YOU HAVE ANY FUTURE, HONEY-INSPIRED MENU ITEMS PLANNED? With fall coming up, we’ll be doing roasted pumpkin with honey, kombucha with honey, fall and winter-inspired cocktails with honey, carrots from the garden with Sriracha and honey, roasted carrot tops and squash blossoms served with butternut squash and honey drizzled with a carrot top pesto. We change with the seasons.
Discover the Culinary Beekeeping Guide for Executive Chefs by Chef James Arthur Wessman a Florida Registered Beekeeper.