Did you know about the honeybee hives in Downtown?
Visitors to Polaris, the spinning blue dome atop Hyatt Regency in Downtown Atlanta, enjoy specialty cocktails, shareable small plates and seasonally-inspired entrees. Pull your gaze from the open, residential-style kitchen to the skyline view and you'll see an inviting space in the foreground: Polaris' rooftop garden, complete with four honeybee hives and downtown Atlanta's only peach tree on Peachtree. The "green movement" is alive and thriving at Polaris, and its birth is a story of dedication and heart.
A rooftop garden is born
Executive Chef Martin Pfefferkorn hails from Austria, where chef's gardens are the standard. After joining the Hyatt team in 2010, he contemplated how to bring this phenomenon to Hyatt Regency, in the center of Downtown Atlanta. Finally, while standing in the soon-to-be-reopened Polaris, he caught glimpse of the hotel's rooftop and an idea was born.
April 2012 saw the finished construction of Hyatt Regency's rooftop garden. Hyatt's engineering team constructed the deck and a state-of-the-art watering system. Condensation from the hotel's cooling system collects in large vats and provides irrigation to the raised beds. The recycle/reuse model doesn't stop there -- thriving veggies are tucked nicely into beds of composted kitchen waste collected from the Hyatt Regency restaurants.
With temperatures reaching upward of 120 degrees in summer, Chef Martin led the effort in learning what to grow on the rooftop and how to best care for it. Three years later, the veggies are thriving, with dozens of menu items containing samples from the garden; you'll taste a rooftop-tomato in every bite of the heirloom gazpacho.
Chef Martin, inspired by a colleague in New York, considered expanding the natural state of the rooftop with a collection of honeybees, but was unsure about the process. In July 2013 he received a call from Cindy Hodges, president of the Metro Atlanta Bee Keepers Association. A local shipping company truck had been in an accident, leaving a small hive in need of rescue.
No one was sure if it would work, but the potential reward was greater than the risk. With Cindy's tutelage, the salvaged hive found respite on the rooftop garden. Chef Martin visits the rooftop every day, examining what he calls his "babies." His on-the-job-training has included tasks he never imagined, most notably, capturing a swarm atop a ladder on an adjacent rooftop. Yikes! While daunting, it is a positive sign; swarming is how colonies of bees reproduce. His efforts have grown the hotel's beekeeping from a single rescue hive to four hearty and healthy hives.
Reaping the rewards
Chef Martin certainly wants to share the sweet gold of his honeybees, but maintaining a healthy hive is his highest priority. Honey is collected only once per year, in mid summer. During this year's harvest season, with (at that time) two hives, nearly 80 pounds of honey was collected. Mindful of their health, he left nearly that much remaining in the hive to ensure they winter well in the coming season. While each bee typically travels a half-mile or so from the hive- usually the Carter Center, Georgia Tech or possibly the Atlanta Botanical Garden- each hive produced a distinct and unique honey, both in flavor and color.
So where does this honey end up? It is added to the sweets and treats at Polaris Restaurant. Indulge in the signature Polaris Blue Dome Chocolates, or try it mixed into a honey-butter and spread across a crunchy baguette. It also offers a special touch to several cocktails such as the Frozen Mojito, Bitter Sweet or the Bee's Knees, with Hayman's Gin.
Next time you are spinning in Polaris' blue dome, honey-cocktail in hand, take notice of the large blue, yellow and orange bee mural on the adjacent rooftop. Created by the Georgia State Arts Program's Graphic Design School about a year ago, it showcases the rooftop garden and hives -- a reminder of one chef's commitment to sustainability, partnerships and high-quality "soil to city" cuisine.