Why Bees Matter: A Chef’s Perspective
Reading Time: 5 minutes
By Cappy Tosetti Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina is the eclectic city of Asheville, known as a Mecca for locally sourced food and award-winning cuisine enjoyed at local restaurants, cafes, food trucks, and catering companies.
According to The Asheville Independent Restaurant Association (AIR), a non-profit organization committed to education, training, advocacy, and member collaboration, there are over 100 active members, making the organization the largest of its kind in the United States.
One member who will always be remembered and revered in the community is Laurey Masterton, an exuberant chef, author, and beekeeper who sadly passed away in 2014 from complications of ovarian cancer. Her motto in life was “Don’t Postpone Joy,” whether she was cycling across the country on her cherry red bicycle, bringing awareness to the disease and more research, or sharing her passion for being a steward of the earth.
Wholesome food was always close to Laurey’s heart, growing up in Goshen, Vermont, where her parents, Elsie and John Masterton, founded and operated Blueberry Hill Inn. Laurey’s interest in cooking and writing blossomed from helping her mother in the kitchen and observing her scribble notes in a binder late at night, resulting in the Blueberry Hill series of cookbooks. Her first solo cooking achievement at age six was baking a batch of her mother’s famous chocolate brownies.
Instinctively, Laurey knew her path in life would be someday running the inn, but her parents’ untimely death, when she was 12, changed everything for the youngster and her two sisters. They survived their teenage years living with other families, attending boarding schools, and going off to college. Growing up, Laurey tried her hand at various jobs; repairing nets on a fishing boat, working at restaurants and summer camps, and designing store and commercial showrooms. She ventured to New York City as a theatrical designer and later found her way to North Carolina, where she attended an Outward Bound course and later became an instructor.
An interest in food and cooking was still inherent, so the young woman rolled up her sleeves and began a small catering company in 1987 from her cottage kitchen. Thanks to a loyal following, the business grew, resulting in a move to a commercial space in downtown Asheville.
After three different addresses, the young woman eventually found the perfect place, a 50-seat sunny space in a turn-of-the-century building that used to house a horse-drawn carriage business. There she found her niche, operating Laurey’s, a very successful café and catering business specializing in gourmet comfort food.
Many in the hospitality field today remember Laurey as an engaging entrepreneur and an individual who went the extra mile in helping others succeed in business. She welcomed new chefs and restaurants to the community, creating a network of camaraderie that encouraged communication and connection. She also celebrated local farms by arranging dinners and other gatherings that introduced the public to the abundance of local produce, herbs, cheese, honey, and other products.
Laurey also enjoyed sharing her passion for nutritious food by volunteering at local elementary schools, where she encouraged teachers and students to start their playground gardens. She organized educational farm visits and cooking classes, saying there’s something magical about watching a child pull a carrot from the soil and then help prepare a tasty recipe in the kitchen. The connection between being one with the earth makes a lasting impression on young minds.
Believing in the power of service, Laurey encouraged others to volunteer, resulting in an active “Chef in the Classroom” program at 30 elementary schools in the area. This led to Laurey being invited to the White House in Washington, DC, joining First Lady Michelle Obama with her “Let’s Move” Campaign, a heartfelt awareness effort to help solve childhood obesity and improve the health of our nation’s youngsters.
An Introduction to Bees
In 2007, Laurey was invited to cater a party for The Honeybee Project, an Asheville organization that teaches children about the importance of honeybees to the food supply. While talking with the event coordinator, Laurey suggested using only foods that would not exist without bees. She was astonished to learn from their conversation that without the industrious insect, the world would not have nuts, avocados, berries, fruits, vegetables, herbs, grains, and many more foods.
Always curious, this information piqued her interest in wanting to learn more about honeybees. Thanks to one of her local honey suppliers, Laurey discovered there was a local “bee school” that offered an introductory beekeeping course. She signed up immediately, immersing herself with great enthusiasm.
She was hooked; beekeeping was something she felt compelled to do, jumping in wholeheartedly by purchasing equipment after the first session. She studied diligently, expanding her knowledge by talking with other beekeepers and researching more. When school ended, she placed an order for two colonies of bees, looking forward to the adventures ahead.
Laurey shared her experience as a beekeeper with honesty and a bit of humor, confessing how she made mistakes along the way but persevered despite some setbacks. She shared her adventures on stage as a TEDx Asheville presenter titled “Bikes, Bees and Cooking for Survival” on YouTube.
Another resource for learning more is her enlightening book published in 2013: The Fresh Honey Cookbook: 84 Recipes from a Beekeeper’s Kitchen. Inspired by honeybees, the plants they pollinate, and the golden sweetness of honey led the chef to share her enthusiasm and respect for honeybees, taking the reader through the year’s seasons with incredible flavors of various kinds of honey, cooking tips, and recipes. Laurey provides an insider’s view of the life of honeybees and their contribution to mankind.
One story in the book relates how she was asked to teach a class of schoolchildren about bees and honey at her café. After the “show and tell” presentation, Laurey prepared a platter of foods that wouldn’t exist without the help of honeybees.
Suddenly, the room filled with song, “One! Two! Three! This bite is the third bite!” Laurey was curious, soon learning from the teacher that the students had been doing their homework. They discovered that every third bite of food they eat would not exist without a busy bee. A lesson well learned, thanks to a circle of children savoring the sweetness of strawberries on a summer day. It’s a chant to remember with every bite!
Laurey’s legacy lives on, inspiring young and old to appreciate the earth and the bees that provide a bounty of goodness buzzing about forests, fields, and orchards. They’re a marvel of nature!
CAPPY TOSETTI lives in Asheville, North Carolina with her three rescue dogs that help her with Happy with Cappy Pet Sitting. She’s putting things in motion to someday crisscross the country in a vintage travel trailer visiting draft horse and goat farms. email@example.com
Originally published in the Winter 2022/2023 issue of Backyard Beekeeping and regularly vetted for accuracy.