The Humble Bee
On of my favourite jobs while I was working as an intern, was to go out into our garden and pick flowers to use as garnishes for some of our dishes. I loved to be out in nature as the sun slowly set over the ocean. At first it was a little scary to approach the voluminous basil bush. No matter the time of the day, the bush was always covered in the industry of the Terranea bees. The idea of getting in their way seemed to be synonymous with getting stung. Until one day when I remembered a little joke told by the executive chef during our orientation.
Chef Bernard Ibarra is a man of incredible warmth and a constant evidence of the power of humility. Every day he makes rounds of the kitchens at Terranea and greets every one of the culinary staff by name and in their first language. He has a remarkable ability to make each person he talks with feel special, and feel important. In our introduction to Terranea, he talked to us about the Terranea bees who live up the road at the Catalina View Gardens, making Terranea honey. He called them “employ-bees” and said we should consider them our co-workers.
When I remembered this, I realised that the bees buzzing around the bush were just doing their job, and were far more interested in doing that than in me (provided of course that I do not cause them to feel in harms way). I began to enjoy seeing my “co-workers” and making sure to take care of them whenever one should accidentally wander into the kitchen.
While calling them our co-workers was quite a tongue-in cheek comment, the fact is that this statement holds a far deeper truth than is first apparent. For any chef, and indeed anyone who eats, bees, earthworms, birds, ants, are all our co-workers. Our food is dependant on a vast network of nature doing its job. Our best produce comes from working with nature, not against it. When we look to nature as something to learn from, not something to control, when we humble ourselves before something so complex we cannot even begin to follow all of the intricate links, we will find ourselves harvesting a much more dynamic and rich crop. As Dan Barber said on Chef’s Table “When you treat nature well it gives you the gift of good food.”
Chefs like Chef Bernard Ibarra, understand this. He dearly loves the chickens at the farm, the “hen-ployees”. They are well treated and live with dignity. And in return they give delicious eggs.
Nature is far smarter than we are. We have so much to learn from it, and so much to gain by humbling ourselves and being teachable.