Found in My Own Backyard: Bee Gardens in The Air

April 10, 2012

in Found in My Own Backyard

  • SumoMe

Something is abuzz these days on top of San Francisco’s Nob Hill.

But it’s not some hot bit of socialite gossip.

And it’s not hype about the latest and greatest thing since sliced sourdough bread.

It’s all about bees and beer.

A  Natural Disaster

New_Fairmont_Hotel_San_Francisco_After_the_Earthquake_&_Fire_Disaster_of_1906The  “New Fairmont Hotel” had yet to open when the earthquake and fire of 1906 razed much of San Francisco.  Miraculously, the Fairmont wasn’t destroyed.  The damage to the hotel was repaired, and a grand celebratory banquet was held there when it opened its doors exactly one year to the day after the big temblor shook the city to its knees.

Hilltop Gardening

The Fairmont has seen a lot of changes since 1907.  But two of the more intriguing features of today’s hotel are its high-on-a-hill herb garden and its beehives.

Fairmont Herb Garden without Stairway or PeopleIt’s not unusual for Northern California restaurants to have their own herb or vegetable gardens.  In the Napa Valley, you’ll find the culinary staff of restaurants like Brix, The French Laundry, and the Wine Spectator  at the CIA (that would be the Culinary Institute of America, not the G-Men from the federal government) picking what they need right on the restaurant property.

But unlike the Napa Valley, nearly all of the land within the city of San Francisco has been paved over or built upon.  So how could the Fairmont possibly find space for its own garden?

Fairmont-Chef-in-Herb-Garden-CopyIf you walk from the front of the hotel down the hallway on the south side of the main floor toward the Pavilion Room, you’ll reach a wall of windows opening onto a roofed area where the Fairmont has planted herbs in raised beds.  The chefs walk out a door and down a short stairway to reach the garden where they can  snip off the rosemary, thyme, oregano, basil, chives, cilantro and lavender needed for cooking.

But it’s not just in San Francisco, a “Foodie Heaven,” where you’ll find an on-site herb garden.  Fairmont hotels elsewhere in the U.S., as well as those in Asia, Africa, and Europe, Bermuda, Canada and Mexico grow their own herbs, too.

Bee Rescue Plan

Being a honeybee isn’t an easy life anymore. Many bees are dying in what experts call “colony collapse disorder.”

Fairmont SF Bee HivesMarshall’s Farm joined forces with San Francisco Fairmont Executive Chef jW Foster in June of 2010 to set up four-plus bee hives at the end of its herb garden.  Now each hive has about 50,000 bees who “pay for their lodging in kind” by giving the hotel over 1,000 pounds of honey a year to use in soups, salad dressings, pastries, and as an accompaniment to the hotel’s afternoon tea service.

While the Fairmont is the only hotel in San Francisco with its own resident bees, seventeen other Fairmont hotels in other locales have their own beekeeping programs, too.

I’ll Drink To That!

IMG_7072Not content to use its honey just for dishes turned out in its restaurant kitchen, the Fairmont San Francisco worked with a local brewery, Almanac Beer Company, to produce “Honey Saison,”  a Belgian-style farmhouse ale served on draft in the hotel’s Laurel Court Restaurant  & Bar.

Along with other San Francisco Bay Area travel writers, I got a chance to sample this new brew at a launch party held at the Fairmont on April 5th.  It has a great golden color, as one would expect from a beer made with honey, and was a good match with the honey-inspired appetizers served along with it that evening.  Executive Chef jW Foster told me that he is working on a short-rib dish, and another made with lamb, that will pair well with the Honey Saison.

(Photos, tour of the herb garden, and invitation to the Honey Saison launch party were kindly provided to Tales Told From The Road publisher, Dick Jordan, by the San Francisco Fairmont. “Found in My Own Backyard” covers places that I have recently discovered, or re-discovered, near where I live. Join me online and virtually explore The Center of America’s West Coast.)

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