Have you ever ordered a dessert from Rosewood Bar & Grill, lightly drizzled in honey? Have you sampled the bruschetta-wrapped peaches finished with honey and crème frâiche? For Chef Ian Bens using local ingredients has always been important, which is why he cooks with local honeys from places like Golden Bear Ranches to polish these fine meals. This year, however, Chef Bens is bringing the hive even closer to home, producing his own honey to stock the restaurant—and feed the Lodi community.
On a property not far from Lodi city limits, Chef Bens tends to a single hive, a talent he picked up while working at the Fairmont in Washington D.C. For five years he has been keeping bees, and using the bounty to season his already impeccable dishes. He, however, hopes to use his newest bee-keeping venture for more than good flavor. With honey and other hive products worked into as many dishes as possible, Chef Bens anticipates it will create a learning opportunity for guests to become educated about backyard beekeeping and how important these buzzy creatures are to the environment.
“The more honeybees that we have… the more fruit and vegetables and seeds we will have on our neighborhood plants,” Chef Bens says. “Keeping hives creates a significantly positive environmental impact.”
For the Rosewood chef, beekeeping has become a bit of a hobby. He goes into the hive about once each month to monitor the health of the bees, check on the queen bee, and get a look at production. By the time he’s ready to pull honey this fall, he expects to have more than 50 pounds of usable goods for Rosewood dishes.
With the sourced honey, Chef Bens will expand the menu, adding it to cocktails such as the appropriately named Bee’s Knees and serving it with locally sourced cheese for an appetizer. Mixed into desserts, poured lightly over salads, or crunched into unusual toppings on unsuspecting dishes, Chef Bens plans to use every part of the hive that he can, while of course leaving plenty of honey for the bees to make it through winter.
In addition to the honey itself, Chef Bens uses the pollen for his cookies, in salads and ice cream to enhance the health components of these meals—“Pollen has a lot of proteins and vitamins and minerals in it so it is very, very healthy,” Chef Bens explains. He is also interested in taking it further, hoping to produce a line of lip balm to sell at Rosewood, made out of the beeswax.
The beeswax also comes in handy for meal prepping. Chef Bens uses it to create pastry molds, in which the beeswax adds a shiny outer coating to the sweets along with a good aroma. He also uses the beeswax as a cocoon to cook potatoes and fish inside for even heat distribution and that same enticing aroma.
Also positioned inside of hives are tree saps and bee gums collected to seal holes and keep out other insects. “It’s super medicinal, anti-microbial, some people say its anti-cancer, anti-fungal,” he says. Aside from that, it tastes amazing. “It’d be great in a cocktail.”
Bees will fly up to three miles from the hive to pollinate plants, and the plants that are pollinated by honeybees have better yields. “If there is a strong honeybee population there will be more fruit,” Chef Bens says.
That means the local flora are benefitting from Rosewood’s newest venture, too.
Next year, there are plans to expand the operation from one hive to two or three. Most of the work, Chef Bens says, comes from getting the hives started. Once you’re done with that part, it’s just a little maintenance and harvesting.
With three hives, Rosewood can pull in up to 200 pounds of local honey for recipes plus other goodies hiding inside those cells. But the more important part is how Chef Bens’ backyard beekeeping will benefit the whole community, supporting the struggling ecosystem and tending to the dwindling population of bees.
Add all ingredients into a shaker with ice and shake. Then, strain into a chilled cocktail glass rimmed with honey. Garnish with a lemon twist.
Taste the Harvest:
Rosewood Bar & Grill
28 S. School St., Lodi