by Nick Neely | Photo © Fairmont Hotels
In the culinary arms race of local ingredients, you can’t get much more local than creating ingredients on-site. It’s why beekeeping is one of the fastest growing hobbies in America, and it’s why the Fairmont properties maintain beehives on a number of their hotel roofs.
The Seattle Fairmont houses six colonies on its downtown roof, each holding around 100,000 bees, surrounded by an assortment of flowers. The flavor of the bee’s honey depends on the flowers they visit.
However, since bees extract nectar from flowers in a six-mile radius, some beekeepers have little control over what flavors the bees bring back. Even the colonies at the Fairmont, which are less than a foot apart, manage to create honey of starkly different flavors.
“We’re very lucky to have such a large variety of flowers in the Northwest,” said Seattle Fairmont Beekeeper and Executive Chef Gavin Stephenson. “It gives our honey a rich flavor made from all sorts of nectar.”
Out of all the Fairmont properties, only Seattle’s executive chef also acts as the property’s beekeeper and has managed the hives for roughly six years. The Fairmont’s roof produces more than 150 pounds of honey a year and finds its way into a variety of delights. Chef Stephenson uses his rooftop honey in a smoked salmon dish. After smoking and baking the salmon, honey is added, creating a complimentary swirl of sweet honey and full smokey flavor.
The Fairmont also sends its honey out to the nearby Pike Brewing Company. The brewery crafts an ale out of the honey called Olympic Honey Ale, only available during the summer. You can also purchase the ale and the rooftop honey directly from the Fairmont.
Other Fairmont properties across the Northwest use their honey for a variety of purposes as well. The Fairmont Empress in Victoria takes the honey made by roughly 500,000 bees in their Centennial Garden to create a honey and goat cheese tart.
Of course, keeping bees is not all honey. Aside from inevitable stings which Stephenson claims, “you get used to,” sudden cold snaps can wipe out your entire apiary. In his first year beekeeping, Stephenson lost his bees to a sudden drop in temperature. Cold snaps such as these create the perfect storm by warming up enough to draw bees out of their hives and then immediately dropping temperatures, providing no time for bees to huddle up and warm themselves.
“Back in the 1980s, bee colonies were a lot hardier,” said Chef Stephenson, “Now, with Colony Collapse Disorder, climate change and all kinds of new diseases, these colonies need daily supervision.”
If you’re looking to take up this rapidly expanding hobby, Stephenson says the best move you can make is join a beekeeping group or club and seek advice from a mentor. The Chef himself had the help of Ballard Bee Company’s Corky Luster.