Paris’ s top restaurants, the Opéra, Louis Vuitton: rooftop beehives are the latest must-have for the best French addresses. Margaret Kemp samples the sweetness
Ever since the achingly chic Left Bank restaurant La Tour d’Argent announced the installation of six beehives on their rooftop overlooking the Seine, beekeeping is the new black in Paris. The Tour’s ‘must have’ honey pots, with notes of linden and lavender, are sold in the restaurant’s boutique (www.latourdargent.com) and used by chef-patissier Guillaume Caron in his fig and honey dessert.
Pollinating bees thrive in Paris where pesticides are banned, working balconies, parks and tree-lined boulevards. ‘Spraying chemicals disrupts bees’ nervous systems, making them vulnerable to disease,’ explains apiculteur Nicolas Géant. ‘Bees are an important part of the food chain, playing a major role in agriculture by pollinating crops.’ ‘Nicomiel’ (Nick the honey), as he’s known, supplies beehives and swarms to wannabe honey-makers from his emporium near Paris (www.nicomiel.com).
‘Due to the diversity of the flora the best French honey harvests are in Paris,’ insists Nicomiel. ‘In the countryside there are endless fields of crops but fewer flowers.’ He should know: he installed the hives at La Tour d’Argent, those on the roof of the Grand Palais, several above Louis Vuitton’s Champs Elysées flagship store and two perched on a tower at La Défense, the high-rise business district west of Paris.
He also advised Patrick Roger, arguably Paris’s top chocolate-maker (www.patrickroger.com). The windows of Roger’s five Paris boutiques always feature surrealistic sculptural displays, and his spring/summer spectacle is dedicated to bees and the ten hives installed in the garden of his chocolate workshop at Sceaux, near Versailles. ‘Between the park and the town’s market gardens, 800,000 bees forage for pollen, resulting in a fragrant polyfloral honey. There’s plum, cherry and acacia blossom in spring, chestnut and lime in summer, then ivy and heather in autumn,’ says Roger, who learned the art of honey-making from his parents in the Perche region of France.
Roger’s latest mouthwatering jewels, ‘Abeilles’ (bees), are glossy bee-coloured semi-spheres of chocolate filled with ganache and thin layers of runny honey, and as one might expect, they’re flying out of his shops.
There were once 1,000 hives in Paris, all of which disappeared during the second world war. The first of the new generation were installed 15 years ago on the roof of Paris’s Opéra Garnier by Jean Paucton, an Opéra props man with a penchant for beekeeping at his Palais Royal apartment. When neighbours complained, he was given permission to keep his bees above the Opéra. Today, Paucton’s honey sells as fast as tickets to a Placido Domingo production. Find it at the Opéra boutique and Chez Fauchon, the French answer to Fortnum & Mason.
The beehives of the Left Bank Luxembourg Gardens have been buzzing since 1856 and today produce more than half a ton of honey per harvest. It’s sold to the public on the last weekend in September, proceeds going towards, guess what? Beekeeping and honey-extraction classes, for which there’s a waiting list.
Seems you feel a fool in this city without a hive on your roof, balcony or garden. At the exclusive Paris Westin Hotel they’re not only using their roof-top bounty in the kitchens but also for honey-based spa treatments. The Westin hives were installed by Stéphane Bazin and Guillaume Charlot, creators of L’Abeille de Grand Paris (Paris Beekeepers). ‘We’ve set up a dozen private hives in gardens south of Paris, teaching the owners how to maintain their ‘ruches’ (beehives), helping them make honey. This form of urban beekeeping is our defence against the demise of the bees. Every time you put a flower on your balcony, you’re helping pollination,’ they say. The duo work free of charge and take ten per cent of the honey, which they sell in local markets, by word of mouth and at The Westin, buying new equipment with the proceeds.
In Paris, beginner beekeepers need a balcony or protected terrace and must register with the Veterinary Authority: Charlot and Bazin can do the rest, as they did for a Parisian family near the Bastille. ‘With room for just one hive, this is our first harvest. We’ve got 40 kilos which we use daily for everything,’ they laugh. They’ve never been stung, leaving the busy bees to their work. ‘It’s incredible how organised they are, keeping the Queen warm in winter, groups crowd around her and batting their wings to make heat. It’s a marvellous experience for us and our seven-year-old daughter.’ They quote Albert Einstein: ‘When bees disappear from the face of the earth, then man has only four years to live. Vive les abeilles.’
Never mind the bees, Margaret creates her own ‘Gourmet Buzz’ at bonjourparis.com