Rooftop hives link beekeeping with haute cuisine at Duquesne Club
Not too long ago, Sara Milarski was terrified of bees.
Now, she works with 75,000 of them.
Milarski and Keith Coughenour have added the task of beekeeping to their work in the culinary department of the Duquesne Club, Downtown, which will have a happy-hour tasting Aug. 12 of the products from its new apiary.
“The bees are European — Austrian, to be specific — but they were raised here, so we want to assure people that they are getting honey from Pittsburgh bees,” executive chef Coughenour says.
The invitation-only event will feature a variety of tastings of the honey being made in four hives surrounded by the ductwork and urban landscape of the roof of the Sixth Avenue club.
The treats will go from a simple tasting of honey on a spoon to a smoky blue cheese with a bit of honey on it to a roasted breast of duck, zucchini bread and butter, all with a taste of honey.
The bees' product has been named Hive 325 Honey after the address of the club and will be used on a glazed lamb tenderloin and an ice-cream cone and in baklava, a honey meringue and a cocktail.
The fresh honey is an extension of the club's farm-to-table attitude, Coughenour says, which is aided by the 40 plant beds growing fresh vegetables on the roof. By next year, he estimates, they will have 60 vegetable beds.
The bees have thrived the same way, he says. The club bought two hives of about 15,000 bees each from the Fine Family Apiary in Monongahela in the summer of 2013. They have more than doubled since then, leading to the creation of two more hives.
Coughenour and Milarski, assistant pastry chef at the club, added this sweet sidelight to their work and are polite about their roles. Milarski defers to Coughenour, billing herself “assistant beekeeper,” while the executive chef refers to her as “co-beekeeper.”
Both have a buzz of excitement about their work.
“We are always trying to be creative, to do things that will reflect our attitude of seeking fresh foods,” Coughenour says. “But this has other roles, as well.”
Bees will fly three to five miles around their hives, he says, so the production of honey on the Downtown rooftop has the bees pollinating plants from the North Side to Mt. Washington.
Coughenour grew up in the Elizabeth area and recalls “seeing bees all around” as a child. He doesn't see that anymore near his home in Franklin Park and is aware of the declining population of bees, caused, in part, by the use of pesticides on plants.
By providing a bee home Downtown, the Duquesne Club hives get a chance to help everyone, he says.
They helped Milarksi overcome her fear of bees. She used to be “scared silly” of the insects and when she heard about the possibility to take some classes on bees and to work with them, she thought it would be the way to cure that dread.
Now, she has no problem being around the bees or even opening the hives to examine honey production.
The idea to add an apiary Downtown emerged when Scott Neill, secretary and general manager of the club, attended a meeting of the Distinguished Clubs of the World in London in 2012. The Duquesne Club is one of 22 members of that group.
Neill says they went to a club there that had a home for bees, and he saw it as a possibility for Pittsburgh.
“I came home, and we started talking and doing some research and decided to give it a chance,” Neill says.
Milarski and Coughenour talk with enthusiasm and fascination about the activity of the bees. He looks at the entrance openings on one hive, watching the bees that have taken on the job of protecting the area and letting in only the bees that live there.
Similarly, Milarski talks about how the bees in the two hives they added had to pick their own queen. After deciding who that would be, they supplied an enriching nectar from their glands that would supply more strengthfor her.
Queens live two to three years, she says, while a common worker bee probably will last only three weeks.
“They have this short lifespan, but yet, in that time, they learn all of their roles, all of their jobs,” she says.
Bob Karlovits is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7852 or firstname.lastname@example.org.