There was magic in the air yesterday. High up on the rooftop of the Waldorf Astoria, I had the delightful honour of joining master beekeeper Andrew Cote and the chefs of the hotel for the last honey harvest of the season. It was a spectacular day of blue skies and sunshine, our company was in chef whites and netted hoods, and I was giddy with the whole idea of beekeeping on top of one of the most famous hotels in the city.
The eastern terrace has a direct view to the Chrysler Building, with fake green grass underlying raised vegetable beds, and stylish hives looking very ‘Waldorf’. The happy residents were sourced and collected by Andrew from across America to ensure a mixed and healthy lineage. There is something very real about a man in his ute, picking up the queens in California, spotting the workers on the drive back, and then walking through the front door of the Waldorf Astoria with half a million bees! That was about a year ago, after chef David Garcelon, recently arrived from Toronto, decided the east rooftop was too perfect to pass on the installation of hives. ( David had the bug from his previous post, and, married to an Australian, will no doubt soon be bringing his beekeeping and culinary skills Down Under, so bee prepared… )
On the roof we all donned masks for safe viewing while the hives were dismantled and inspected for honey. Andrew led the chefs – all trained beekeepers, as they smoked the bees and edged out the combs. The bees didn’t seem too fussed, I guess they are used to housekeeping coming along to service the suite. That Waldorf hospitality is famous, as is their guest list – but it is focussed forward. Beekeeping has only been legal in NYC since 2010, and the Waldorf has 6 of about 200 registered hives.
It was a glorious day up there on top of Manhattan and I recalled – no doubt with shared glee, seeing Park Avenue being transformed that morning with chrysanthemums, coloring a vibrant path all the way up to Central Park. Access to food and water is essential for the bees, so this corridor provides the next best thing to room service. They must be the best kept bees in Manhattan. Andrew is the only full-time professional beekeeper in NYC, training ‘beeks’, working with schools, and overseeing beehives on rooftops around the city. He is a fourth generation bee-keeper, with a farm in Connecticut and stalls at the Farmer’s Market in Union Square. Because bees are loyal by proximity to blooms, his Highline or Central Park honey will be true in flavor. Perhaps with a similar instinct he asked me to beeline a message to the South Pacific – ‘Kylie Michelle, where-ever you are, I think of you every day…’
My Waldorf experience did not end on the rooftop, as the harvesting of the honey was done in the kitchens. Treat after treat! The Waldorf kitchens are huge, historic, full of silver coffee pots, engraved plates and all the etiquette of elegant service. While David demonstrated the extraction of the honey, his chefs worked on a magnificent morning tea. Fresh figs with foie gras, succulent lobster rolls, ripe brie drizzled with honey, and then the piece de resistance – honey icecream in perfectly polite little cones.
Money could not buy the experience I had in sharing the honey harvest at the Waldorf. It was extraordinary. Bees seem to have an effect on people, grounding them with a pooh bear camaraderie. I’m completely hooked, with even more reason to look up as I wander around New York and with greater respect for the golden nectar and the teamwork that make it possible. So don’t be surprised to find me planting swathes of blossoms with consecutive blooming patterns on my terrace, and humming past Cole Porter’s piano in the Waldorf mezzanine to join the hive of high society….