When Kyle Williams was hired as head chef at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City (Blue KC), he had a request: hire a staff of 10,000.
Blue KC was on board. And nearly a year and a half later the Blue KC beehive—Kansas City’s first corporate-sponsored hive— was installed at its headquarters downtown.
The hive, home to roughly 10,000 honey bees along with its royal inhabitant, the queen, will eventually provide honey for the Live Blue Kitchen and Café. The café features dishes that incorporate locally farmed, sustainable ingredients for Blue KC’s 1,000 employees.
For Chef Kyle, the quest for a corporate beehive wasn’t just a pet project, but a passionate endeavor. “Bees are vitally important to local and global food production. It’s important to think globally and act locally,” he said.
Bees are the predominant insect pollinators of leading fruit, vegetables and seed crops, transferring pollen from the male to the female parts of the plants. Without them, we would be in a pickle (which come from cucumbers, and you guessed it, are pollinated by bees.)
Bee colonies have been declining worldwide, for reasons not completely understood. Theories include loss of habitat, pesticides, mites, genetics or a combination of the above.
So why did Chef Kyle want to bring a colony to Blue KC? “I was first exposed to urban beekeeping when I was living and working at various restaurants in New York,” Chef Kyle explained. “After arriving in Kansas City, I wanted to help bring urban beekeeping to the area to help both re-establish the bee population and educate on the importance of bees in our ecosystem.”
Unfortunately, after making it through the past winter, the Blue KC beehive bee colony collapsed. It wasn’t for lack of food; the bees left between 5 and 10 pounds of honey that Williams and his team will harvest.
While saddened by the loss, Chef Kyle is anything but a quitter. “At the end of the day we cannot control nature and this was and is a great learning experience. We got another round of bees to start the process all over again. Hoping this time they’ll stay for the long term.”
This March Chef Kyle released the new queen and bees into the Blue KC beehive with the help of his mentor, Clayton Lee, President of Missouri Bee Keepers Association. Just as before, Chef Kyle’s café staff will help manage the bees as part of their daily kitchen duties.
Once established, the hive will produce about 50 pounds of excess honey per season. It will take some time for Blue KC’s hive honey to grace café dishes. But café regulars won’t need to wait until then to try the chef’s honey-inspired creations, as he will incorporate other sources of honey into his dishes in the meantime.
Follow our monthly series, where we’ll go into more detail about the new hive, the journey from hive to table and share recipes featuring fresh honey.