Dinner was at Orchids at Palm Court, the exquisite French Art Deco restaurant in the historic Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza — a swank room filled with gilt, six foot palms rising from oversized urns, elaborate murals, ornate lighting fixtures, super high ceilings and even a waterfall. It’s the kind of place where if I had a white mink coat I would let it fall behind me sweeping the marble floor as I walked through the entrance just like a star in a 1930s movie.
In other words, it’s not the type of hotel where you expect to find colonies of bees living. But they do. And they have their own floor.
That’s what Todd Kelly, executive chef at Orchids, tells me when I compliment him on the exquisite appetizer I started off with — Blue Cheese Beignets with Local Honey, Frisée, Belgian Endive, and Almond Brittle.
“Traditionally, a beignet is deep-fried dough covered with powdered sugar and served as a dessert,” he says. “But for this, I take a beignet, filling it with rich blue cheese and serve it atop bitter greens, almond brittle, and spiced honey harvested from our rooftop beehive.”
At the mention of rooftop beehive, I look at him quizzically. Is this for real?
Indeed it is, says Kelly explaining that it all started in 2011 when they moved in two bee hives. Liking the honey the bees produced, they added two more hives the next year. And these are the busiest of bees. In 2011, the hives yielded approximately 36 pounds of honey and in 2012, they yielded about 100 pounds.
Currently there are approximately 300,000 bees on property and the honey is used in many menu items including Chef Kelly’s Old Kentucky Tomme with Bourbon Barrel Vanilla Sorghum, Lavash and Honeycomb, their Rooftop Honey Vinaigrette and roasted duck with honey, lavender and bee pollen. It’s not often that you find a hotel that has hundreds of thousands of bees on the premises.
Luckily none of them were buzzing around when I was there. But it does give an indication of the attention to detail given to menu items in the kitchen.
Even if you don’t have access to Orchids’ Rooftop Honey, any high grade of honey should do for this intriguing recipe.
Recipes from Todd Kelly’s Orchids at Palm Court Cookbook by Todd Kelly (Black Tie Press 2011; $29.95)
Blue Cheese Beignets with Local Honey, Frisée, Belgian Endive, and Almond Brittle
Blue Cheese Beignets
5 ounces milk
2 1/4 ounces unsalted butter
4 ounces all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon chopped thyme
4 ounces blue cheese
Kosher salt, to taste
Vegetable oil, for frying
Red Wine Vinaigrette
1 chopped shallot
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1/2 ounce black pepper
3 cardamom pods
6 spice berries
3/4 ounce cumin
1/4 ounce fennel seeds
4 ounces local honey
1 1/2 ounces Banyuls vinegar
1 head Belgian endive
1 head radicchio
1 head frisée
2 ounces crumbled blue cheese
Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
For the Blue Cheese Beignets: In a small sauce pot, warm the milk and butter over medium heat. Whisk in the flour, and cook over low heat until the mixture begins to stick to the sides of the pot.
Transfer to a stand-up mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and beat the dough for 1 minute. Add the eggs, one at a time, then add the thyme and blue cheese. Season with salt and set aside.
For the Red Wine Vinaigrette: Purée the shallots, Dijon mustard, and vinegar in a blender. With the motor running, slowly drizzle in the oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
For he Almond Brittle: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a bowl, mix together the sugar, corn syrup, brown sugar, butter, and salt. Fold in the nuts. Divide the mixture into a series of quarter-sized pieces and transfer to the baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes.
For the Spiced Honey: Toast the spices in a sauté pan, add the honey, and cook until the mixture is fragrant, about 2 minutes. Cool to room temperature and add the Banyuls vinegar. Strain and Set Aside.
To Complete: Pour vegetable oil into a large, heavy pot or a deep-fryer and heat to 325 degrees. Use an ice cream scoop to plunge the beignet batter into the oil. Fry until golden brown, about 3 minutes.
Toss the lettuces with blue cheese and red wine vinaigrette. Season with salt and pepper.
To Serve: Drizzle the spiced honey on the bottom of each salad plate. Place the beignets on top. Garnish with mixed lettuce and a piece of the almond brittle.
Makes 6 servings