Cote (left) and Garcelon tend hives on top of Waldorf Astoria New York.

Cote (left) and Garcelon tend hives on top of Waldorf Astoria New York.

Flowing honey.

Buzz Worthy

Waldorf Astoria New York Takes the Locavore Movement to New Heights

By Sara Reistad-Long

It's one of New York City's most legendary buildings. And it's keeping a secret.

On a rooftop deck with a sweeping view, 20 stories above Park Avenue, there are bees. Lots of them. In fact, more than 300,000 of them. But don't worry. They're supposed to be there. As part of a unique initiative at Waldorf Astoria New York, six active hives are making honey, to sweeten the dishes served at the restaurants inside.

The idea came from David Garcelon, director of culinary for Waldorf Astoria New York, who believes in local ingredients and had worked with hives in his native Toronto. Pulling it off in New York, however, wasn't easy.

In fact, until just three years ago, keeping bees in the city was illegal. So Garcelon enlisted Andrew Cote, the beekeeper who helped lead the effort that lifted the city's ban in 2010. Since that victory, more than 300 hives have sprung up across New York—but only one with an address like Waldorf Astoria.

“Setting up the hives here was a fantastic experience,” says Cote, who founded the New York City Beekeepers Association and the nonprofit organization Bees Without Borders, which teaches beekeeping as a way of alleviating poverty in developing countries.

“Honey is so versatile. It doesn't just add sweetness; it adds flavor and real depth.”

David Garcelon

“The hotel never balked at any request, big or small, and no expense was spared. Most of all, their foremost concern was for the bees,” says Cote. “They preferred healthy bees over higher honey production. They truly care about the bees and the environment, and it was evident every step of the way.”

Proximity to the 843-acre Central Park means there is plenty of green space to fuel the hives' honey production. In return, the Waldorf bees help to pollinate the city's horticultural assets and ensure the greenery continues to flourish for years to come.

The timing couldn't be better. New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and philanthropist David Rockefeller recently jointly pledged $10 million to the MillionTreesNYC initiative, a reforestation project with a goal of planting 1 million new trees in the city by 2017.

“The bees forage up to three miles for nectar,” says Garcelon. “So it's New York honey in every sense, sourced everywhere from Central Park to the trees and flowers that line our streets and avenues.”

In 2012, Waldorf Astoria's busy bees produced nearly 120 pounds of honey for use in the hotel's restaurants, including the famous Peacock Alley. By the end of 2013, that figure will likely quadruple.

“Waldorf Astoria did not invent urban beekeeping,” says Cote. “But it did perfect it.”

Cote and Garcelon tend hives on top of Waldorf Astoria New York.
Wild strawberries with a thick dipping sauce.

The rooftop bees (top) provide honey for two of chef Garcelon's favorites: wild strawberries with a thick dipping sauce (above, left) and field and forest mushroom chowder (above, right).

The rooftop bees (top) provide honey for two of chef Garcelon's favorites: wild strawberries with a thick dipping sauce (above) and field and forest mushroom chowder (below).

Forest mushroom chowder.
Bee.

Sweet Rewards

Last year, the industrious chefs at Waldorf Astoria NewYork learned how to build beehives, care for bees, and harvest honey. By spring, they had a working apiary, whose first honey batches were blended into vinaigrette dressings or used as a light drizzle over a cut of blue cheese.

Today, the mouthwatering results are stretching further and can be enjoyed in dishes throughout Waldorf Astoria restaurants, such as the legendary Peacock Alley.

“Honey is so versatile,” says David Garcelon, the hotel's director of culinary. “It doesn't just add sweetness; it adds flavor and real depth.”

Among Garcelon's own menu favorites are a field and forest mushroom chowder, with honey adding a rich and creamy sweetness to the savory blend.

He also recommends a pairing of wild strawberries with a thick dipping sauce of Greek yogurt, fresh mint, and rooftop honey.

For a sweet finish, he suggests the rooftop honey–raspberry crème brûlée, served with fresh raspberries and gaufrettes tuile, or the aroma-soaked honey nougat ice cream.

Chef Garcelon smokes a beehive (below).

Chef Garcelon smokes a beehive.