Bees on Nob Hill and honey at Macy's Union Square

Chef jW Foster
Chef jW Foster

What's the buzz on Nob Hill? It's probably honey bees! Restaurants and hotels with kitchen gardens are nothing new, but a hotel with beehives is something quite out of the ordinary, especially in the middle of a city like San Francisco. Executive Chef jW Foster arrived a year ago from Dallas at The Fairmont San Francisco, where he established a 3,000 square foot herb and vegetable garden. His desire to save the bee colonies and promote awareness about colony collapse and the importance of bees inspired him to collaborate with Marshall's Farm to bring bee hives to the rarefied air of Nob Hill, in particular the roof garden.

The rooftop beehives yield about 60 pounds of honey, harvested two to three times a year, and is used in the hotel restaurant. He says the lavender honey has a particularly pungent flavor as does the eucalyptus batch. The health benefits are part of the appeal of using honey, and it fits in to the Fairmont's "Lifestyle cuisine". Fairmont Lifestyle Cuisine is centered around health and wellness without sacrificing flavor-- think of it as the next generation of spa cuisine. The hotel restaurant uses honey in ice creams, vinaigrettes, desserts, in the afternoon tea service, and in marinades.

Chef Foster also makes gravlax with pacific cod, using honey instead of sugar. He'll be demonstrating how to make this dish at Macy's during the Macy's Flower Show on April 9th at 1 pm (tickets to the cooking class with the chef and beekeeper Helene Marshall are $10). Gravlax is a raw, cured dish and the chef shared some tips with me about cooking with honey, including not using too high heat, which changes the flavor. He suggested "letting it shine" and using it as primary flavor, emphasizing it when cooking. Another tip? Use it as a finishing touch, the way you might use olive oil as a drizzle on fruit, ricotta or prosciutto. Supporting the bees is also a teaching tool at the hotel, where the chef offers tours of the roof garden and a view of the bees at work to culinary students and to guests. While Macy's may not invite bees into the store, flowers and honey are more than welcome.

–Amy Sherman of Cooking with Amy

[Photo credit: Courtesy of San Francisco Fairmont Hotel]

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