The neighborhood’s rooftops are home to tennis courts, play parks, gardens … even beehives. Andrew Rubin is the man with the dubious honor of harvesting Hell’s Kitchen honey.
So, presumably you’re not a full-time beekeeper – what’s your day job?
Executive chef. I’ve been working in the city as a chef for over 30 years. After opening the InterContinental New York Times Square, we wanted a culinary connection to tie to the building’s green initiatives and LEED status. For me as a chef, the bees seemed like a natural next step.
How do you and the bees get along?
We monitor the bees weekly to see that the queen is laying eggs, young bees are hatching, and honey is being produced. Once the bees are very prolific we add “honey supers” (this is a part of a beehive that is used to collect honey). The process is not very high maintenance. The primary initiative of the hive and its resident bees is to propagate and expand the hive, protect and proliferate the colony. They are very self-sufficient insects.
How many bees are we talking about here?
There are probably between 40-60,000 bees per hive. We’ll harvest approximately 60 lb of honey per hive a year.
And, be honest, how many times have you been stung?
Half dozen, mostly during the harvest, which is the most invasive thing I do with the hives.
So, anything they’ve taught you about life, the universe …?
Well, the exercise has helped my slight insect phobia … but not completely. These are calm, friendly Italian or European bees, and the adage that if you don’t bother them they won’t bother you is true. The most compelling lesson I’ve learned is about the colony or the bee community. Bees are completely selfless, focused on the good of the hive and the survival of the population, not the individual.
As a chef, I nurture your body and emotions. If you eat something here that makes you feel at home, or evokes a childhood memory, I’ve achieved something special. The bees nurture the earth and provide (via pollination) the raw ingredient for me to do so, as well as the food we need to eat. I nurture our guests, the bees nurture the earth, I nurture the bees. It is a very symbiotic relationship.
How do you harvest the honey?
We remove the frames from the honey supers, Spin them in a centrifuge, and strain the honey in to containers
Cool. And what does Hell’s Kitchen honey taste like?
The honey has two profiles. The spring, or early harvest (end of June) has a lighter color, a heavier viscosity, and a sweeter, more floral flavor. The autumn, or later harvest (mid-October), is very dark in color, has a lighter viscosity, and a more herbal, aromatic flavor. This is clearly a result of what type of nectar is collected. In the spring it’s probably fruit and maple trees. In autumn, ash, elder, and oak. Add a little orange soda from the trash can on the corner of 8th Ave – 44th St, and you have a very unique recipe.
What’s your favorite honey concoction at the restaurant?
The Bee Good cocktail. It’s made with gin and homemade honey wine. It is both delicious and refreshing, and proceeds from the cocktails go to help the bees, through our partnership with The Best Bees Company. In the food realm, the Honey-Chile smoked ribs are insanely delicious.
Where else do you hang out in Hell’s Kitchen?
I like Pio Pio, which is Peruvian cooking, at Yakitori Totto – it’s so good, and fun to watch the guy cook. Dalton’s is a great bar to just hang out and lay low. If I want something fancier, HK has a great selection of wine bars that I really enjoy.