The Spread: Chef Daven Wardynski Creates Liquid Gold
Entertaining inspiration dripping with Florida flavor
With the Sunshine State in near-constant bloom, Florida honeybees stay busy almost year-round. Floridians have a long history of beekeeping. Right here in the swamps of Apalachicola, the gold standard of honey—tupelo—has been harvested since the 1800s. And every spring, the University of Florida hosts Bee College, a two-day workshop for both seasoned and aspiring beekeepers.
When chef Daven Wardynski arrived at the Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort five years ago, he brought his own knowledge of beekeeping and on-site food production from his years at the Omni Chicago, where he was executive chef. In Chicago, he incorporated as much hyperlocal produce as possible into his menu by maintaining a rooftop garden and harvesting honey nearby. In Amelia Island, he established a large organic garden, an aquaponics greenhouse, an apiary and The Sprouting Project dinners, where guests experience the ultimate slow-food, garden-to-table feasts.
The local bees’ liquid gold elevates already popular menu items like house-made ice cream, served dripping with honey caramel and honey toffee atop a honey cake. For lunch or dinner, the peach salad shines, with its honey vinaigrette and Cohen Farm pecans.
Wardynski considers the local plant life’s impact on the flavors of his dishes. Honey varies not only from region to region, but even within a few square miles. “The honey collected at the resort is going to be different from the honey harvested on the north end of the island or the honey from Cumberland Island,” says Wardynski, who harvests honey two to three times a year. “The bees will only fly about two miles to collect pollen. So whatever is in that vicinity is going to affect the flavor profile.”
The honey is also imbued with different tones every season. “Depending on the time of year, you might get gallberry honey—amber-colored, light, floral—or in the middle of summer, when the palms are blossoming, you might get honey as black as motor oil. It’s really buttery, earthy and rich.”
Together, the chef and the bees create a welcome—and sticky—situation for any spring soiree.
FLORIDA PEACH SALAD
- 1 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1/2 cup honey
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
PREPARATION: Mix the vinegar, honey and olive oil in a medium bowl. Set aside.
- 1 pound pecans
- 1/3 cup maple syrup
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- pinch of cayenne pepper
PREPARATION: Heat oven to 300 degrees. Toss the nuts, maple syrup, cinnamon and cayenne pepper together in a large mixing bowl, and spread the mixture in a single layer across a large baking sheet.
Bake for 12 minutes. Remove baking sheet from oven and allow to cool. Transfer to a container and set aside.
- 8 ounces Sweet Grass Dairy Lil’ Moo cheese
- 1 head bibb lettuce
- 2 peaches, pitted and sliced
- 1 radish, cut into coins
- 1 bunch Italian parsley
- 1 ounce fresh chives
- 8 ounces candied pecans honey vinaigrette
PREPARATION: Place a spoonful of cheese on each plate and top with lettuce and peaches. Garnish with the radish coins, herbs and pecans. Drizzle with honey vinaigrette and serve.