Rooftop Bees Give Restaurant Hyperlocal Flavor At the Fairmont hotel in Washington, honeybees outnumber humans. Chefs plan to use their rooftop harvest to make desserts that deliver a direct hit of honey, like "honey caviar."
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Rooftop Bees Give Restaurant Hyperlocal Flavor

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Rooftop Bees Give Restaurant Hyperlocal Flavor

Rooftop Bees Give Restaurant Hyperlocal Flavor

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(Soundbite of song, "Honey Bee")

Mr. MUDDY WATERS (Blues Artist): (Singing) I hear a lot of buzzing, sound like my little honey bee.

GUY RAZ, host:

When he sang about bees, Muddy Waters couldn't have predicted the Alice Waters revolution. The Berkeley-based chef inspired a whole generation of kitchen artists to go hyper local. And two hotel chefs right here in Washington, D.C., Ian Bens and Aron Weber are so local, they're raising their own honeybees right on the roof of the Fairmont Hotel.

Just under this exhaust fan, on the roof of the Fairmont, three rectangular, wooden crates serve the hotel's non-human clientele, 100,000 Italian honeybees.

Mr. IAN BENS (Executive Sous-Chef, Fairmont): We're actually just going to give a little bit of smoke underneath, where the bees go in, as well as on top a little bit, just to help mask the alarm pheromones from the bees.

RAZ: Bees release an alarm pheromone at any sign of danger, like for example, a giant human hand reaching into their hive. So Ian Bens, an executive sous-chef who normally works with copper pots and forged carbon steel knives, starts to puff out some smoke from a bee smoker into the hive.

The smoke calms them down, so you don't hear much buzzing. And if you're wondering, the bees live too far from the hotel's human guests to pose any danger. Ian is wearing a protective bee suit. He and the executive pastry chef of the Fairmont, Aron Weber, volunteered to become the hotel's beekeepers.

What you're doing now is you're going to sort of just check the level of honey in one of these crates?

Mr. BENS: Sure, yeah. What Aron's going to do, he's got a hive tool in his hand. It's like - I don't know how to explain it, a bee crowbar, I guess.

Mr. ARON WEBER (Executive Pastry Chef, Fairmont): Yeah, exactly.

RAZ: Ian Bens pulls out a tray from the hive.

Mr. BENS: It's almost completely full of honey. Most of it is capped. You can see - actually see the brown in there. That's pollen, as well, that they collect.

RAZ: The bees race into and out of the hives. Most of them travel a few hundred yards down the side of the hotel and right into Rock Creek Park, where they pollinate the local flora and pick up what Aron Weber calls the tastes of D.C., like magnolias and linden trees.

Mr. WEBER: Compared to your commercial hive, which is generally going to be a blend from America, Canada, maybe Brazil, a whole bunch of different countries, it was really distinct. Now, there's a real floral taste to it.

RAZ: Weber says he's already starting to sketch out some new deserts that will use his own, homegrown honey.

Mr. WEBER: I was thinking the other day of making like a honey caviar, which will be like beads of honey (unintelligible) agar-agar, which will be something maybe we garnish with just like a vanilla ice cream, but something where you really get that intense hit of honey.

RAZ: That's Aron Weber, executive pastry chef at the Fairmont in Washington. And earlier, we heard from the hotel's executive sous-chef, Ian Bens. The two men also double as the hotel's beekeepers. And if you were wondering how to make honey caviar, you can find the recipe, along with photos of the bee hives, at our Web site, And a special thanks to the Little Bee Farm in Damascus, Maryland, for lending us our bee suits that made this visit possible.

(Soundbite of music)

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