Terroirs aren't just for wine: with their latest interactive exhibition, which opens this week in London, Relais & Châteaux show us honey in a whole new light.
A few years ago I started to notice that many of the hotels in which I was staying around the world had bee hives on their properties, whether in gardens, on roofs or in orchards. This commitment to producing local honey was impressive, even more so when one considers the plight of the honeybees, which are dying in their millions across the world. So I wasn’t surprised to discover that many of Relais & Châteaux’s over 550 individual hotels and restaurants around the globe have become beekeepers, producing their own delicious local honey – from Japan to New Zealand, and from the USA to the UK.
This commitment to local produce and local biodiversity across the Relais et Châteaux portfolio is being celebrated in Joy of Bees, an extraordinary new two day public exhibition which opens in London next week. Built as an immersive and experiential art installation fused with a gastronomic tasting, it will feature four floors dedicated to some of the rarest honeys in the world, collected from Relais et Chateaux properties, with the experience masterminded by culinary innovators, Bompas & Parr, in a collaboration with honey experts Dale Gibson and Sarah Wyndham Lewis of Bermondsey Street Bees, winners of the 2016 Great Taste Small Artisan Producer of The Year.
I spoke to Sam Bompas about their work creating the Joy of Bees installation, and the immersive experience that will greet visitors. “For years I’ve dreamed of notions of treasure chambers but I’ve never seen a compelling one: they are usually less Arabian Nights and more prosaic James Bond in Goldfinger and I thought what would be really incredible would be an opportunity to have a treasury of the world’s greatest honeys from Relais et Châteaux properties across the world.”
In addition to the Salon of Honey there will be also a fragrant indoor garden, a live honeybee observation hive, chef-led demonstrations, and honeycomb-inspired contemporary art.
Sam was particularly excited about their collaboration with Bermondsey Street Bees, who have overseen the honey side of the exhibition, and who will be conducting the immersive gastronomic tastings for visitors, directly connecting the various terroirs of Relais & Châteaux properties with the tasting notes of each respective honey.
He promises that it will be a unique proposition: “It’s like applying the principles of a whisky tasting to honey. We’ve worked on all sorts of drink tastings and projects and taken those nine years of experience and knowledge and applied them to honey.”
“At Bompas and Parr we are generalists – we are very good at experiences and the senses but we are no means an expert in every food – except arguably jelly – so for me it’s been very exciting to find someone who has that deep well of knowledge that has been built up over time. Honey is a huge deep subject and Bermondsey Street Bees are incredible collaborators for this project. I’ve learnt a lot from them about how specific honey is: I didn’t realise beforehand that honey was made around 200 metres from a hive (up to 3 km), how specific honey is to a location.”
I’ll leave the last words to Sam Bompas: “We all know about the plight of the bee and how we should be doing more. With this installation we’ve created a joyous evocation of this incredible resource so let’s celebrate it in a joyous light - that can be more motivating than guilt.”
The Joy of Bees
19 Greek Street, Soho, London
6th – 8th October 2016
Tickets: £9.00 per person including booking fee, available to purchase via Billetto.
All proceeds from ticket sales will be donated to The British Beekeepers Association.