BY CELIA PURDEY
One year ago, Flemington Racecourse became home to some beehives, with a bee population sitting at about 60,000. Fast-forward 12 months and this has grown, taking the Flemington kitchens and the Peter Rowland Group chefs another step closer towards limiting food miles and becoming self-sustainable as they use the delicious honey from the bees in their dishes.
Ably assisted by the Grounds and Gardens team and local beekeeper Colin Winterton, the chefs in the Flemington kitchens are thrilled to be part of the beekeeping and honey-making activity on course. Chef de Cuisine Shannon McKay says it is a fantastic experience for everyone involved. “We are involved in it all, from start to finish. We check on the bees regularly to see that they are healthy and there are no parasites. When a hive is ready, we take the racks out and extract the honey back in the kitchen. When people see the honey start churning and spinning and filling the pot, they can’t help but stop to look. It is a very rewarding experience.”
Ensuring that nothing goes to waste, the wax is given back to the beekeeper, Winterton, who melts it down and might use it to make beeswax paper and other things. Winterton, a second-generation beekeeper, installed the hives and delivered thousands of his best bees to start the Flemington colony.
Even more rewarding than the churning for McKay and the other chefs, is using the homemade raw honey in their fabulous race day dishes, as well as bottling it for a lucky few to take home. “We would love to bottle more and have it available for racegoers to enjoy as well,” said McKay.
In the meantime, to get a taste of the honey you will need to dine on course where you’ll hopefully come across it on the menu. Used in such dishes as salads and desserts, the Ponderosa Honey (as it is nicknamed) not only tastes delicious (described as having a floral smell, with a fruity taste that finishes with a kind of burnt caramel), but brings a smile to the faces of the chef that use it.
“We like the fact that something that we created right here on course is used in the dishes we serve,” said McKay. “This, coupled with the amazing vegetable and herb garden that Mick Ryan and his team has grown for us in the nursery, where much of our produce comes from, makes cooking for racegoers and guests an even more rewarding and pleasurable experience.”
Please note: Visitors to Flemington will not notice an increase in bee activity. Headquarters is already home to many native bees, and the hive has been placed in a secluded location away from foot traffic.