Bees buzzing at Radisson Blu
One of two bee storage units on the rooftop.
FireLake at the Radisson Blu in the Mall of America in Minneapolis got a honey of a deal from the University of Minnesota’s Bee Squad: Support our bee research and by next summer you’ll have enough local honey to sweeten more than just the honey-glazed pork chop currently on the menu.
Paul Lynch, the executive chef at FireLake, has been with the company for 17 years and for 14 of them, he says, he’s been asking for his own honeybees. Locally sourced food has always been a mainstay of FireLake and now that it’s under Carlson Companies’ umbrella, it’s become the centerpiece of the LEED-certified hotel.
Bees, which have important jobs in nature are experiencing “colony-collapse syndrome,” Lynch said. About 35 percent of the global food supply and more than 80 percent of flowering plants are dependent on animal pollination, according to the Bee Squad. Systemic pesticides and mites are the main threats to bees, Lynch explained. Ironically, one of the less scientific ways to rid bees of mites is to coat them with powdered sugar, said Scott Huston, director of facilities for the hotel—although, they’re not anticipating having to resort to using sugar to make honey at Mall of America.
The Bee Squad placed two colonies with 10,000 honeybees per colony on the 13th floor of the hotel in early June. The location is not random, Lynch said. The Radisson Blu is adjacent to a river and wildlife preserve, but more importantly it’s at the confluence of several freeways, which are lined by “virgin” landscaping. “No one sprays the weeds along freeways anymore,” Lynch points out. Bees wander about two miles from the hives, although they can forge farther.
Executive Chef Paul Lynch is anticipating the day the trays are filled with honey.
The hives were originally planned for the third-floor roof where the hotel could install a glass wall so shoppers could view the hives’ activity. One of the key components of the Bee Squad’s program is educating the public about how busy bees are. But the location was vetoed because the bees needed more sun.
Next spring the hives will be divided to form four colonies. Keeping them warm during the winter months isn’t the challenge it would appear to be, even in Minnesota. Huston plans to build hay fortresses to block the wind, and the radiant heat from the 13 stories below provides enough additional heat. This summer, condensation from the air conditioning unit provides an unpolluted watering spot.
Once the honey starts flowing, Lynch envisions using it in vinaigrettes and cocktails, as well as honey candy, honey butter and honey ice cream. They’ll also incorporate a bee character and information into their children’s activity sheets. And best of all when diners ask if a dish uses local honey, Lynch can serenely reply: “Our honey comes from above.”