Now in its 6th year hosted at JWU Providence’s College of Culinary Arts, the Honey Baking Summit brought together bakers from all over the US to learn about and bake with honey. Sponsored by the National Honey Board, the event included breakout sessions that delved into consumer trends in honey, honey history — and even an apiary tour.
Attendees included James Beard Foundation 2018 Changemaker April Anderson of Good Cakes & Bakes, Emily Spurlin of Bad Hunter, and Sofra’s Maura Kilpatrick, among others. All were eager to swap ideas and get inspired.
During one of the lecture sessions, the National Honey Board’s Keith Seiz shared data around our changing tastes in sweeteners: “Millennials are making buying decisions based on social impact and health/wellness.” Increasingly, honey is seen as an ideal choice, he noted, because of its reputation for being “local, seasonal and ‘clean’ or all-natural.”
Seiz shared an amusing slide show of cereal box evolution through the years — for example, “Sugar Smacks” have become “Honey Smacks,” and Buzz, the Cheerios Bee, has become a full-fledged icon for the toll that colony-collapse disorder has taken on the global honeybee population. (Cheerios even went so far as to remove Buzz from the box — leaving only a white outline — as part of their #BringBackTheBees campaign; specially-marked cereal boxes also contained pollinator-friendly seed packets for consumers to plant in their own gardens.)
Roughly 1 in 3 bites of food we eat is made possible by bees and other pollinators, so the global decline of our bee populations is of serious concern.
On a hopeful note, JWU’s bee population — 4 hives that are kept behind the university’s Harborview property — is doing very well indeed. Director of Culinary Operations and on-campus bee expert Matt Tetzner led the Honey Summit attendees on a buzzworthy tour of our small but mighty apiary, which is overseen by the student group Bee the Change during the academic year.
Two of the hives were installed two years ago, and the other two were installed last season. The Harborview location was chosen because it allowed the bees to face South, with a North-facing windbreak. It’s a quiet spot without too much foot traffic, and the relatively long garden plot affords the bees a good flower-filled flight path to take each day. (Once bees establish a flight pattern, they do not deviate from it — they are not improvisers.)
Because the day was overcast and chilly, the bees were clustering in the hive to keep the temperature regulated. (On a sunny day, most will be out foraging.)
This gave attendees a perfect chance to see the inner workings of the hive with a full house. Tetzner passed around a bee “frame” to any attendees that wanted to see the process of making honey up close (this open frame fits into the hive and is gradually filled in with honey by the busy bees). Lucky attendees spotted a queen bee and even witnessed a bee birth. “It was fantastic!” Catherine Seisson of La Baguette Magique noted afterwards.
Through it all, bakers gotta bake. And bake they did — JWU Providence’s own Richard Miscovich, who helped organize the summit, led the experiments in baking bread with artisanal/regional honeys of different types (clover, wildflower and orange blossom, to name a few), while Melina Kelson, CBB, of Princi Kitchen (Chicago) oversaw the sweet, savory and dessert side of things.
At the end of both days, the baking lab’s tables were overflowing with a playful array of honey-based baked goods, from brioche to breads, babka to citrus-y Danish. The bakers crowded around, excitedly tasting and interrogating each other about flavor profiles, bake times and technical details.
For Miscovich, who has been involved in logistical planning for the Honey Summit from the start, the event’s lasting impact is multifaceted: “The wonderful thing about the Summit isn’t just that after two days a group of bakers and pastry chefs have learned about, tasted and baked with honey. It is also that they share business successes, innovate new items and get a clear idea of how important honey is to the average consumer. And the camaraderie always reminds me that honey can make people stick together in more than one way.”
BELOW: SCENES FROM THE 2018 HONEY BAKING SUMMIT AT JWU’S PROVIDENCE CAMPUS.