BY SOPHIA KHORI
MURPHY NEWS SERVICE
Lucia Watson of Lucia’s Restaurant took home the gold at the Beez Kneez first ever Dandelion Honey Pastry Chef Challenge, hosted by Beez Kneez.
The Nicollet Island Pavilion was filled earlier this month with many couples, families, friends and several beekeepers who gathered for an evening of tasty pastries, music and networking with those in the beekeeping community.
The night began with encouraging the audience to protect pollinators and to learn more about bees from a Beez Kneez education class, which is something the company does in addition to delivering locally made honey by bicycle. That set the tone for the whole night, providing a mixture of fun and education.
The honorary emcees were former Minneapolis mayor R.T. Rybak and his wife Megan O’Hara. They introduced all of the chefs and celebrity judges, including food critics and bee experts, involved.
While the judges tasted and determined the winner, guests mingled, sampled the pastries, and enjoyed music from HoneyMonkeys, Tjarnblom, Briana Lane and Bee Minus.
Jon McClure sounded his bagpipe to call the crowd to their seats. when the time came to announce the winners.
Watson, who took first place, said she has always cooked with honey even before her 29 years of operating her restaurant. She explains that she grew up knowing it was a good, important and natural food.
She said she heard about Beez Kneez through celebrity judge Dr. Marla Spivak., a Distinguished McKnight University Professor of Apiculture and Social Insects at the University of Minnesota.
Watson said she wanted to know more about pollination and to feature bee-pollinated foods at her restaurant, so she got in touch with Spivak to help her put together a flyer defending bees and pollination.
“I’m really committed to local food,” Watson said.
A discussion last fall with a local farmer from whom she buys served as a wakeup call. She said she asked the farmer why she didn’t get any more melons and he said that were no more melons to be purchased, because the plants weren’t being pollinated.
“That was the first time it landed in my back door, that why I got less melons, and I just sort of freaked out,” Watson said.
Watson describes her winning pastry as “a really creamy, luxurious, sweet, yet subtle honey with a crunchy almond side.”
She explained that the dandelion honey that each chef had to use had a long, slightly bitter finish, so she wanted to pair it with a creamy side that would cleanse the pallet.
Other entries included dandelion honey infused meringue, almond financier with a lemon and honey marmalade — and even honey ale.
State Rep. Jean Wagenius (DFL-Minneapolis) took the stage before the end of the program to discuss supporting currently debated legislation related to protecting pollinators.
Wagenius urged the audience to “tell members of the conference committee that we want this legislation passed.”
The night wrapped up with more music and high spirits among the more than 100 people who gathered that night.
Sophia Khori is studying journalism at the University of Minnesota.