Artisanal Ingredients


Chefs are becoming food artisans, and two of the most popular foods, homemade honey and cheese, have created quite a stir.

Who would have thought honey could run in short supply? As scientists continue to study colony collapse disorder—the sudden disappearance of worker bees in colonies across the globe—they have pointed to chemical insecticides used in large-scale agriculture as one of the potential culprits. Concerned about this ongoing problem, more chefs have sought to support small-batch honey producers and, like Taylor and Casie Hall of Apis Restaurant & Apiary, become beekeepers themselves. 

“Some research shows that neonicotinoids, a newer form of insecticide banned in Europe, weren’t killing the bees directly, but were causing problems with the fertilization and reproductive process, leading to fewer worker bees and a weaker hive overall,” explains Chef Taylor Hall, who—in partnership with his wife—opened the restaurant partly in response to this ongoing phenomenon. “Bee colonies face constant threats from mites, pests, and other invaders, but when the worker bees are healthy and the population strong, they are able to defend the hive.” In the past five years, however, bees have been losing that ability, and some experts point to the toxicity of pollen that is created by neonicotinoids and, in turn, ingested by honey bees, other insects, and even hummingbirds. 

With 20 hives situated at the back of the 6-acre property, Apis Restaurant & Bee Apiary, which opened outside Austin, Texas, in February 2015, produces honey for its dishes and cocktail menu. The restaurant also brings in schoolchildren and community members to teach them about beekeeping. However, the Halls actually began beekeeping at their home six years ago, after learning more about colony collapse disorder and taking a beekeeping class. At the time, they were running a boutique catering company and planning their next move. “We learned about how important bees are in the food cycle, and we wanted to do more to protect them,” Chef Hall says. 

“Bees ingest nectar from flowers and essentially regurgitate the protein food source in cells within the hive, capping it with wax to make honeycombs,” he explains. As the sweet syrup loses moisture, cures, and ages, it turns into that golden treat typically found on menus and in grocery stores, and it becomes food for the bees during the year—especially during the winter. 

Chef Daven Wardynski, at the Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort, has also become a beekeeper, growing and maintaining seven colonies on the property’s farm over the past two years. Like Hall, Wardynski harvests more of the honey in the spring and summer and less in the fall, leaving more for the bees to consume during the winter months. Depending on weather and other factors, the restaurant might collect up to 150 pounds of honey per hive, per year. “Bees don’t make honey for us,” Chef Wardynski says. “They make it for themselves to eat in non-blooming times of year. We just rob it from them.”

For his part, Hall protects the queen bee laying eggs at the bottom of the vertical hive by using a screen so she won’t be disrupted when some of the top-level “supers”—or wooden frames—are removed. Once out of the hive, these frames are quickly put on trucks and driven off-site for the honey extraction. 

“Bees get a little aggressive when you open up the hive and start taking their hard work away, so you have to work quickly,” says Chef Hall, noting some newer models allow beekeepers to turn a crank on the side of the hive and collect honey through a spout without having to take apart the structure. 


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