BEE-lieve It or Not! Bees Count, Dream and Even Recognize You | Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street

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Episode 804
February 15, 2024

BEE-lieve It or Not! Bees Count, Dream and Even Recognize You

BEE-lieve It or Not! Bees Count, Dream and Even Recognize You

Bees solve puzzles, have distinct personalities and play with balls like a puppy. Zoologist Lars Chittka reveals amazing new discoveries about the mind of a honeybee and what a bee’s consciousness means for us humans. Plus, we investigate the mysterious phenomenon of bee heists; Sylvan Mishima Brackett, chef-owner of Rintaro, shares the secrets to perfect hot spring eggs and ruby grapefruit jelly; Alex Aïnouz searches for the perfect paella; and we bake Basque Country’s burnished cheesecake.

Questions in this episode:

"Why is my chicken soup so watery?"

"We loved a couscous we tried at a wedding. Can you help us recreate it?"

"What's the best way to wrap food for the freezer?"

"What's the best way to have fresh ginger in my tea mix?"

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Christopher Kimball: This is Milk Street Radio from PRX. I'm your host Christopher Kimball. To make a single drop of honey, one bee might visit 1000 flowers, and they're highly selective about which flowers they go to.

Lars Chittka: So, if you found out the yellow ones with bilaterally symmetrical flowers are the most rewarding then you store that in your little bee head and seek out subsequently only those flowers.

CK: Bees are problem solvers, and they also experience emotions recognize human faces, and communicate with each other through dance.

LC: They run around in a repeated roughly figure eight shape and encoded in these movements is both the direction and the distance to a rewarding source.

CK: Later on the show, zoologist Lars Chittka reveals more of his amazing discoveries about the mind of a bee. The first I'm joined by Sylvan Mishima Brackett. He's the chef owner of Rintaro in San Francisco, also former Creative Director at Chez Panisse. His new book is called Rintaro: Japanese Food from Izakaya in California. Sylvan welcome to Milk Street.

Sylvan Mishima Brackett: Oh, thank you so much for having me. I'm thrilled to be here.

CK: So, your restaurant Rintaro is in Izakaya so could you just explain that concept? What is an Izakaya?

SB: Sure. So I guess, when I was in my kind of early 20s, I was finally of drinking age. And when I'd go back to Japan to visit relatives and friends, we'd go out. People don't tend to entertain at home as much, you know, houses and apartments are small, they're just not really set up for it in the same way that you might find in the US. So, for a night with friends, it's, you know, you're going to one or two or three izakaya. So, these are places they tend to be fairly informal. It's kind of focused on the drinking and sake. Music is sometimes loud. And it wasn't uncommon for us to go to two or three izakaya called tashichho. like, word for ladder. So, you'd start somewhere, and then you, you'd end up at some other place at 2:30 in the morning, under the train tracks eating yakitori.

CK: So, you're talking about drinking and going laddering and going from one to the next, and you're 2:30 in the morning, you're under the overpass, finishing up the evening. And then on the other side, there is great food. In Tokyo, for example, would they serve the kinds of foods you're serving here? Or is your izakaya kind of more of a high end version of what you'd find in Tokyo?

SB: Yeah, I mean, it's I think it's more complicated for sure. The scale of Rintaro, which is not a huge restaurant, I think we we see 85 people is gigantic for Japanese standards. So, most of the izakaya that I used to go to would have have seven seats. Or if you're like, like under the tracks, it's like literally three seats. So, with the scale that we have, we're able to offer a lot more because I can have more cooks and more stations doing more things. So, for instance, the dashimaki tamago the folded omelet I remember going to an izakaya in Kyoto, the master of these izakaya was cooking yaki toddy. At the same time, he was making dashi maki tamago, behind him. And I was like, wow, this is truly impressive, but really, really hard. So, we have somebody who can make that dashi maki tamago on one station, and then you know, we've got the grill and then we can make udon. So, I would say that our menu is probably more complex and varied than most these izakaya just because of the size of the restaurant.

CK: Let's go back to the folded omelet, this sort of square pan, I looked at the steps in your book. At first I was excited because I've always wanted to do it. Yeah. And then I looked at the steps and said, maybe not because it's pretty complicated. It's it's hard, right?

SB: It's it's kind of one of those things, it just takes a little practice. I do have a little cheat in there, which is if you have a little sushi roller, once you've finished making it you can put it into that roller and kind of wrap it up and put a rubber band around it, let it sit for a minute or two and then unroll it and it'll look reasonable and the flavor will be good.

CK: Do you want to just describe to people just quickly what the basic process is?

SB: Sure. So dashimaki tamago it's a folding omelet. So, we make it in a rectangular pan. And it's one egg to 30 grams of liquid. So, one egg is about 50 grams. So that gives you a sense of the ratio. And that liquid is dashi of course, and mirin sweet cooking wine. And we use a light soy sauce and sugar. Then we throw in an extra handful of katsuobushi to give it a real katsuobushi punch. And then you cook it one layer at a time. So, you put in probably a quarter of the mixture into your pan, let it semi set, and then you fold it, and then you push it to the back of the pan, pour more liquid in and then fold it over again. And when you're done, it should be like extremely juicy as you bite into it. It's very delicious.

CK: You had a couple of little sort of dessert things which I thought were interesting. Ruby Red grapefruit jelly, and you cut them into segments, do you want to talk about that one, because that seemed really appealing.

SB: Oh, yeah. So, I'm a huge fruit lover, like I love like all kinds of fragrant fruit. So, you know ume the Japanese plum, mulberries. And you can really preserve that fragrance and flavor of that fruit by liquefying it basically, and setting it with content, which is agar agar seaweed based flavorless. It's kind of like gelatin, but the texture is different. It's it doesn't give in the same way gelatin does. And when you you heat it, you set it through heat. So, say for instance, you have a liter of very good page mandarin juice, that you've seasoned with a lot of sugar, and of that liter you might use only a cup, bring that to a boil with content to dissolve it, and then you pour the cold juice in. And then you set the whole thing. And what that does is that the cooked juice doesn't taste good. It tastes like airplane orange juice or something, but the fresh juice compensates for it, you can kind of preserve that really wonderful fragrance.

CK: Eggs, how do you cook an egg to get that perfect, almost cooked texture to it? Is that a just a question of timing? Is there any other trick to doing that?

SB: Not really, it's pretty straightforward. I mean, we, you know, in the olden days, and I'm sure it still happens, the cooks and wives of the village would find the spot and the hotspring that was the right temperature, get 64.7 is what we use in Celsius. And you leave the egg there for between 30 to 3540 minutes and wallah, we use an immersion circulator, like that you might use for sous vide. Before I bought that machine, we would just hover over the stove with a thermometer it was really annoying, adjusting the heat and adding cold water as necessary to cool it off or turning up the heat if it was too cold. But that certainly works as well.

CK: So, in terms of traditional Japanese, let's say restaurant, the apprenticeship concept and repetition and doing the same thing over and over again. Do you use that when training people in your restaurant or bringing them in is similar approach or is it a more American approach?

SB: Yeah, definitely. I mean, people tend to stay for three, four or five years. And they tend to specialize in a particular element. So, we have people who are very, very, very good at udon. And I'll train them first. And then the kind of culture of the restaurant has been such that like, each station kind of develops on its own and finds little refinements and changes. So that's actually been really gratifying for me.

CK: That notion of repetition, details matter. investing time in terms of years and decades to get good at something. Do you think that's something that's fading from the modern world or do you think it's something that actually will have a comeback?

SB: It's hard to say, I mean, I sometimes mentioned this acquaintance of mine who's 17th generation unagi chef. And, you know, since forever, his family has been grilling unagi and there really wasn't a whole lot of possibility for him to say grilled chicken, like, you know, it was going to be unagi because his family has been doing it forever. And because he's kind of devoted his life to it. His unagi is insanely delicious. You know, it's like the best thing ever. But you know, that's kind of rough. If you don't want to grow unagi for your whole life, to feel like you're not free to do something else. So, there's a kind of a freedom in America, which I love. But the price of that is that people don't feel like they're required to learn something very, very deeply.

CK: Sylvan what a pleasure. And I absolutely when you know, five minutes with your book, I just, I wanted to get on the plane and go, go eat there.

SB: Oh, please come yeah, I'd love to have you.

CK: I love the book. I love the food and I just love the philosophy behind it. Sylvan and it's been a real pleasure. Thank you.

SB: Thanks so much. Appreciate it.

CK: That was Sylvan Mishima Brackett, author of Rintaro you can find his recipe for Ruby grapefruit content jelly at Mill Street Now I'm joined by my co-host Sara Moulton to answer a few of your cooking questions. Sara is of course the star of Sara's Weeknight Meals on public television. Her latest book is Home Cooking 101. So hot drinks, right? mulled wine, hot toddies, etc. Some people like them. I'm not one of those people. I like my drinks cold. But I think you are actually an aficionado of the mulled wine department, are you?

Sara Moulton: Well, I wasn't I had the same terrible attitude that you do right now until my son's girlfriend cat who made us some mulled wine two Christmases ago. Now she's from Honduras, but she went to high school in Norway. And this is something you know, gets cold at night that they would have. I just loved it. It was so good. And I'll tell you why there's a secret ingredient. So, it's a bottle of good wine and full bodied. And you add three or four cardamom pods, maybe a few more 6 - 8 whole cloves, couple of cinnamon sticks. Peel of one orange, which is very nice. It's not the juice, it's just the peel, you sort of get that sort of bitterness from the peel too. Sugar to taste a quarter to a half a cup. And then the surprise ingredient is either half a cup of bourbon or half a cup of whiskey. And it's interesting what that high alcohol you know, toasty spirit does to the mulled wine. It makes it more sophisticated. It really is pretty nice. And then they did garnish it with raw almonds and raisins in the bottom of each little cup. And it was really pretty darn good.

CK: If I wasn't feeling well, I can see making a restorative you know, hot toddy. But taking a bottle of good wine and heating it and putting sugar in it. And I don't know. It's just sort of it's well

SM: It’s yummy.

CK: I've not had this recipe you'll have to make it for me

SM: Really, I love this with great authority, and you’ve not even tasted it.

CK: I'm sure it's good. Okay,

SM: Moving on.

CK: Let's move on.

SM: Welcome to Milk Street. Who's calling?

Caller: Hi you guys its Meg____ calling from South Central Minnesota.

SM: Well, hello, Meg. How can we help you today?

Caller: Well, you helped me quite a lot with a bread problem I was having a few years ago. And now I have soup envy. Oh, I'm calling about soup.

SM: Okay, well, what is the problem?

Caller: So, like, there's some things like black bean soup, no problem, green and white chili, no problem. But when it comes to the birds, like a chicken soup, or a turkey soup, it's watery. It's just insipid. And I can't quite figure out why when I was a little girl, grownups could put a chicken in a pot, throw in some vegetables. And you have this just naughty, delectable rich chicken soup. And I can't do it.

SM: So, you make it you simmer it the chicken is cooked. When you're done, you use the chicken in the soup to correct you take it out, you shred the meat, and then you make the soup with the broth. The simplest thing you could do is you're going to need to take the chicken out, let it cool before you can shred it a bit. While that's happening, boil the liquid and cook it down by half. Or until it tastes like something. The problem is you needed all that liquid to cover the chicken. And so, it's just a lot of liquid, it will be great. All you need to do is reduce. It's that simple.

Caller: So, what I'm hearing is what I really need to do is take out the chicken meat and reduce it with just bones or with just the broth. And I think I was just cooking the stuffing out of the meat and then the meat tasted like nothing and the broth tasted like nothing. So that's great strategy.

CK: Your meats going to cook in like 20 - 25 minutes. I wouldn’t cook it whole; I would cut into pieces.

SM: Do you cut it into pieces?

Caller: I certainly could

SM: Well, then maybe that is a good idea. And the other thing is add a few extra chicken wings, they have the three things you want, which is skin, which is fat bones which is gelatin and meat, which is meat flavor

Caller: Supplement with chicken lands, I think I could do it.

CK: Do you have an instant pot or pressure cooker?

Caller: I do. I do.

CK: Throw a bunch of wings in it with like a quart of water cook it for 50 minutes or so or you could do it on top of the stove. But the point is I agree with the chicken wings, and that should be the basis for your stock. Secondly, there's another way around this which is using chicken soup recipes from around the world. Where in Vietnam, they might throw in rice and fish sauce right. In Somalia they have two kinds of hot sauces they put on top. So, add some texture and add some heat, add a strong flavor. And that way you can mask less than robust broth. But chicken wings, I agree is is really the way to go. And that'll give you a lot of flavor. You can play with chicken soup as a base and just make up stuff and just add a little extra flavor and that makes it more interesting. So, I think chicken soup is the best recipe in the world because anybody can play with it

SM: Meg let me tell you one last thing that I just remembered. It was a secret of my mother-in-law when she made her chicken soup. She added parsnips, and that was a really nice addition also. So

Caller: Oh, I had a wonderful German Russian woman who took care of me when I was a little girl. And she put sorrel in it.

CK: Ooh, that's good

Caller: it was bright lemony burst of sorrel chicken. Delicious.

SM: Sorrel is not easy to come by. But that is a brilliant idea.

Caller: I don’t know how she did it. Milwaukee, Wisconsin in like 1970 and somehow she found sorrel

SM: Wow, yummy.

Caller: Thank you very much. I will try both these strategies, and I will have better soup.

SM: Okay, alright, Meg, thank you.

Caller: Thanks. Bye, bye.

CK: Welcome to Milk Street. Who's calling?

Caller: Hi, my name is Diane, and I am from Western Massachusetts.

CK: How can we help you?

Caller: So recently, my husband and I attended a wedding. And they had a delicious meal chicken. And I don't know if I'm pronouncing this correctly. Veronique with dried cranberry and apricot couscous. So, my husband and I loved the cranberry and apricot couscous. But we can't figure out what the flavoring was to make it sweet or tangy. I tried to ask the kitchen staff, but they wouldn't tell me they said it was a special recipe. I'm not very creative or imaginative in the kitchen, I tried adding honey, balsamic vinegar combo. I just can't replicate that taste. Any suggestions as to what I could use?

CK: Oh, I can always make up a suggestion. But there are two things that come to mind. The liquid in which you cook the couscous could be flavored. So, for example, you could use the stock but you could use some orange juice or something else in it, you know. And that would flavor the couscous and give it a little sweetness (or cranberry juice). So that would be one thing. The other thing is the cranberries, the dried cranberries, and apricot, whatever. You can plump those to, you know in a warm liquid and add flavor infused flavor into those. You could add, you know additional sweetness like honey or sugar to the liquid when you plump them up. But I think it's the liquid in which you cook the couscous where you probably could do the most benefit in terms of adding something interesting and I think orange juice is probably or cranberry juice. But one of those probably would help. You like to because the couscous itself had flavor or you just like the cranberries and the apricot.

Caller: It was the couscous that had the flavor. I know sometimes they say rather than steaming the couscous you can pan sauté it, I guess is the correct word. And I wasn't sure if they added something that way rather than just boiling it.

CK: You could, you can do like a pilaf you could start by sautéing it and then you cook it either steam or boil it or whatever. But you can start the couscous that's true in a big skillet, or Dutch oven, and you can sauté with some oil and some spices or whatever you want and then finish add water and cook it that way. I'm sure they're adding the flavor through either that method or just in the liquid itself. I think steaming however, in my experience steaming something you can't really infuse much flavor into food. So, it would have to be either sauteed in oil or would have to be actually simmered in a liquid.

SM: Diane, I wanted to ask a question though. Do you think it was the tiny, tiny grains of couscous or was it more like the Israeli couscous which is like little rounds?

Caller: It was Israeli.

SM: Oh, it was okay. I mean, if you wanted to try it with the instant stuff then I think Chris has got a point just you know, follow the instructions to the back of the package and instead of adding water let it be half you know, some sort of juice or half juice and half chicken broth, but if it's these Israeli yeah, you could certainly sauté it ahead of time and then cook it with flavored liquid. And that takes longer to cook as I'm sure you're aware so

CK: You should have slipped one of the people at the wedding 20 bucks and you would have gotten the recipe. That's the easiest way instead of calling us.

SM: You know really, darn

CK: 20 bucks will get you anything.

SM: No, but I think it's you know, couscous is actually pasta it’s semolina grains. Yeah. And so, it just absorbs whatever liquid. The liquid is the key, as Chris said, ,

Caller: Okay,

CK: Alright

Caller: Well, that's what I will try. Thank you very much.

SM: And Diane, let us know. Please reach back out and let us know.

CK: Well, next time, take out the wallet. Yeah. Take out your wallet. (Yeah. All right.) Yeah. Take care.

Caller: Thanks. Yeah. Bye bye.

CK: This is Milk Street Radio. Sara and I want to solve your culinary mystery. So, give us a call anytime. Our number 855-426-9843 one more time 855-426-9843 Or please email us at questions at Milk Street

SM: Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?

Caller: Hi this is Lance Crowley calling.

SM: How can we help you today?

Caller: A couple of months ago I was clearing out my freezer and I discovered a two-quart Ziplock bags of a very nice beef bone broth and made for French onion soup. The stock must be well over two years old by now. I always hear in recipes, people say, oh, this will last three years or so and so months, I've always been curious about what we especially well wrapped food, what can actually go wrong in the freezer? If you think this stuff is still perfectly good to use.

CK: I think although I would get a second opinion, so I don't kill you. I would think from a safety point of view, there's no issue. And if you're freezing a liquid, I think you're in pretty good shape. So, I don't think there'll be a problem. I think the problem is when you freeze meat or chicken or something else, when you have a texture problem, and some of the things I've learned are, you know, some freezers are frost free, like I just two weeks ago, I have a full freezer and refrigerator freezer in my basement in Vermont. And one of them was full of venison from like nine years ago. Well, that was not good, I can assure you. So here are the things I would always vacuum pack, like meat or anything like that, I wouldn't just put it in a bag. And two make sure that the bags are as thick as possible. One thing we did in testing years ago was discovered that ice crystals form and they actually puncture the bags with a vacuum pack. And that's how things go south quickly. (Okay) if you want the thicker milliliter bag, if you do that, but I think of a liquid. I don't see a problem with that. Again, I would check with like the USDA or somebody else first though. I think it's fine.

SM: Yeah, I agree. As you know, what makes food suffer is if there's too much air in there, and there's oxidation and ice crystals form and so the taste and the texture change. I mean, sometimes food that's been not well stored and left in the freezer gets an off taste. But you're going to boil it. I mean, (boil it) I mean, you hate to waste that.

CK: I think it's fine. I think you're in good shape.

SM: Yeah, I agree.

Caller: Great. Yeah.

SM: Okay Lance

CK: Okay. All right. Take care.

Caller: I'll make some French onion. Thank you.

CK: Bye. Welcome to Milk Street, who's calling?

Caller: Hi, this is Jamila. I'm calling from Northern Kentucky.

CK: How can we help you?

Caller: I have this masala tea mix that I got from a store it was black tea, fresh ginger, and cardamom pods. And I wanted to replicate it. And so, I made some mix my own with the same things. And the first time I made it the ginger caused there to be like mold all over where the ginger was because like from the moisture. So, I was calling to see what you think about other ways to have fresh ginger in that tea mix but not like chopping ginger every day.

CK: So, the one you bought it was dried ginger root, I assume?

Caller: Yeah, it was first ginger root, but it was like yeah, I have been dried definitely. And so I thought I don't know if like it dries while it's in there.

CK: You know, you can buy candied ginger, which I use sometimes and chop it up and put it into apple pie and other stuff. But you probably could do that you can buy dried ginger, but you couldn't use fresh ginger because that's going to go bad on you as you found out. I mean, the other thing is, do you want this specific mixture?

Caller: No

CK: I mean, masala is just the spice mix. So yeah, you could, you know, get a mortar and pestle which are great to have, by the way. And you could put cardamom and a bunch of other things, warming spices in there as well. Like nutmeg, etc. and make up your own mix. You just want to stay away from anything that's got liquid in it. That's water, which will turn bad has to be dried. But candy. Yeah, Candied ginger, you know, keeps nicely, that would probably work. That's what I would do. (Okay) It's pretty strong. It's got a strong ginger hit to it. So, you're not going to get something bland. I mean, Sara?

Caller: Yeah, yeah that what I wanted

SM: Well, you could also make a syrup of all of those spices. And that would keep in the refrigerator. Like my daughter just bought some, although I didn't look at what was on the label. So, but I mean, again, I think Chris is right, you could make up your own mix. It sounds like you'd liked this combination. (Yeah) and the thing about doing that is so you make a sugar syrup. And then you add chunks of ginger. I mean, bring it all up together. And it started cold. Bring it all up together. Add the ginger, add the cardamom maybe some cinnamon sticks if you want or some cloves. Whatever mix you wanted it but the fresh ginger. I make ginger tea when I'm sick. Scrub it, but I don't peel it. You don't have to chop it up, throw it in cold water, bring it up to summer. Just let it simmer and get stronger and stronger, stronger as you cook it. If you added sugar to it a significant amount and strain it all out or don't strain it out.

CK: No, I think you'd have to strain it out.

SM: You have to strain it out, right

CK: Let’s not kill our caller.

SM: No, he's right. He's right. You don't want to leave the raw product in there, which will absolutely make it spoil. But then strain it all out. And you can keep that in the fridge for you know, weeks and then just add some to your tea.

CK: That's a good idea.

SM: It'd be great.

CK: Yeah, you can buy ginger syrup, like as a cocktail bar thing,

SM: Right but you can also make your own also make your own.

CK: Also make your own, it will be a lot cheaper since

SM: I make ginger tea all the time. I might as well.

Caller: Well. Great. Thank you both so much.

SM: Okay

CK: Thanks for calling.

SM: Bye bye.

CK: Thanks. You're listening to Milk Street Radio after the break inside the mind of a honeybee that's coming right up. This is Milk Street Radio I'm your host Christopher Kimball. Right now, farmers in California are getting ready to harvest 100% of the almonds sold in the United States. But to produce billions of almonds, they need billions of bees.

Rowdy Freeman: Almond pollination in California is the largest pollination event in the world. It takes about 2.4 million hives. This

CK: This is Rowdy Freeman. He owns 1100 of these hives. a beekeeper like Rowdy can make a lot of money by renting their bees to a farmer,

RF: you know somewhere between 200 -225 dollars per hive.

CK: Beekeepers from all over the country head to California to get in on this lucrative business. And when the truckloads of bees start rolling into the almond orchards, Rowdy starts to get busy, because in addition to being a beekeeper Rowdy is also a detective. And he investigates be heists.

RF: There’re probably 100 different thefts over the last 10 years or so, you know, several 100 1000s of hives.

CK: Rowdy once helped catch a group who stole nearly $1 million in beehives.

RF: They had kind of like a chop shop, grinding off people's brands, and then repainting everything and putting their stencils on them and everything so disguising the stolen bees and equipment as their own. They were caught in the act of doing that,

CK: But more often the thief disappears without a trace. Finding the missing hives is difficult.

RF: Kind of like finding that needle in the haystack.

CK: This is beekeeper Buzz Landon. He's been the victim of bee theft.

Buzz Landon: We went out to the yard and there were just holes where the hives were sitting. They picked up the hives they left the pallets and everything else

CK: Rowdy was on the case. When he shows up at an investigation, he always begins by looking for clues at the scene of the crime.

RF: Sometimes people get in a hurry, they drop something. We look for tire impressions at the scene. Is it a towed behind forklift? Or are they using a skid steer we can tell all that type of stuff by the tire impressions.

CK: At the scene Rowdy can also tell how much the thief knows about bees.

RF: A lot of times it's an inside job. So, it's like other beekeepers who have lost a lot of their own hives so, they go out and steal hives from somebody else so they can fulfill their contracts and get paid.

CK: Because the culprit is usually in the world of beekeeping Rowdy might start getting tips. Maybe someone overheard something suspicious for so some hives on the side of the road. But as for Buzz’s bees,

BL: Mine were never found again. But somebody else's were found, and it was shown that somebody was stealing them and then selling them.

CK: Even after the almond season the missing hives remain a problem. Once they're stolen, they're often mistreated or even abandoned, and a beekeeper ends up with fewer hives for future harvests.

BL: They're not out there pollinating the crops, which produce food all across the United States and the world. So, it has a very large-scale effect.

CK: We know that bees are essential to the food system, but they also might be some of the world's most remarkable creatures. For example, when Rowdy and Buzz work with their hives, their bees might actually recognize their faces. And that's one of the discoveries made by zoologists Lars Chica, he also says that bees can count. They have distinct personalities, and they might even possess consciousness. He joins me now to share more revelations from his book, The Mind of a Bee. Lars welcome to Milk Street

Lars Chica: Hello, nice to talk to you.

CK: You wrote the following, “bees qualify as conscious agents with no less certainty than dogs or cats”. I guess the dogs of own were pretty conscious agents. But what exactly did you mean by that?

LC: Well, consciousness breaks down into basically two things. And that's the capacity to think, and to feel. And we test these capacities in various established paradigms that people also use for dogs and cats. For example, in problem solving scenarios, where we confront bees with various puzzle boxes, to look into the future, think what do I need to achieve? And how do I get there. And indeed, it turns out, the bees can do that. They can also think about past events and combine them flexibly in their memory to generate new information. So, there is a capacity to think. And by the same criteria that people also use for various domestic animals, it also appears that they have some basic emotion like states. Bees have the capacity to suffer, they sense pain as well. And they even exhibit play like behavior and bumblebees that are offered balls to manipulate, they come back to these again and again, because they seem to enjoy the activity itself, just like a puppy.

CK: So let me ask this question, because I think it's fascinating goes to the heart of your research. What if consciousness is vastly different in different animals, that is the way they think, and what they dream, and how they see the world or see what's inside themselves and how they envision the world. The way that's done is totally different. It's like this thing about an alien coming to earth, their entire frame of reference is different. And so, their whole way of thinking is different.

LC: I agree. That's why I often refer to our bees as kinds of aliens from inner space, because their whole perceptual world is so entirely different. And so of course, are the things that occupy their minds. So, to just give you a few examples, bees can see things that we are entirely unaware of, for example, ultraviolet light, in a flower, for example, we might just see a homogenously yellow pattern, they might see two colors. They can also smell things that we don't such as, for example, carbon dioxide. So, if you just start with sensory perception, it's already completely different in this insect world.

CK: And they have a magnetic compass, they process information through the eyes faster than we do, they have 300-degree vision, the list goes on and on, as he's also talking about. It's very dark inside the hive. So, they get a lot of information in the hive. But they do that through touch and feel not so much through sight, right.

LC: Indeed, so once you open up a hive, what you see is really some sort of a strange civilization, you see 1000s of bees, all doing different things on these vertical honeycombs that are stunning and their regularity and indeed their mathematical optimality. And all of the interactions you see there and all the of the activities of course, cannot be orchestrated through visual input. So much of the interactions, as you said, are mediated by touch, by smells, and by the bees engaging in different movement patterns that in some cases can take the form of a kind of symbolic language. And encoded in these movements is both the direction and the distance to a rewarding source.

CK: So, let's talk about food and producing food as if this was an agricultural seminar. So, bees carry their own body weight and nectar or pollen, it may need to visit 1000 flowers and fly 10 kilometers to fill its honey stomach only once. So, this is a massive amount of effort and energy for what seems like a fairly small amount of honey production.

LC: Indeed, it is from a human perspective. Of course, you often forget that when you consume honey in your tea. Just a single tiny drop of nectar requires a bee to physically fly to 1000s of flowers to identify the most rewarding flowers. So, if you found out through trial and error with different flower species the yellow ones with bilaterally symmetrical flowers are the most rewarding, then you store that in your little bee head and seek out subsequently only those flowers.

CK: Yeah, you say that between visits to 1000 flowers, the bee may have to reject 5000 other flowers and then you say, this is really interesting. In visiting 1000 flowers, the bee has to work 1000 floral puzzle boxes whose mechanics can be as complicated as operating a lock.

LC: But there are various things that need to be learned about flowers. So, if you think about snap dragons, for example, you have to pry petals apart, vertically, or horizontally depending on which species it is, and then wiggle your body in particular ways to get to the nectar rewards. And some bumblebees figure out certain ways of cheating there sometimes find that you by biting the spurs of flowers, you can get to the nectar faster. Honeybees can learn by observation how to use these holes. So, it's not just learning how the flower appears, but also how to handle it, how to manipulate it, and so on. And that's why many flowers can really be likened to complex puzzle boxes.

CK: This one really struck me. Honeybees could be trained to recognize images of human faces.

LC: Indeed, so we trained bees to land on a little platform in front of a black and white image of a human face, where they got a little droplet of sugar water. We do that a few times. And then present the bees essentially with a scenario like a crime witness test where there are now several photos and they're spatially shuffled, of course. And we then ask, can you now locate that very same face on which previously you were rewarded? In the test, of course, there are no rewards anywhere. And indeed, with about 80% probability the bees returned to the correct face, even with quite similar images of human faces. And moreover, they're not just limited to remembering one image and one particular configuration, but even from different angles, they'll be able to recognize it.

CK: How has this changed you as a person? I mean, you just talked about some of the amazing stimuli and the way they navigate and et cetera, et cetera. But this must open up and change your view of existence in life on earth, and humans’ interaction with it. Are you different now?

LC: Yes, by all means, so if, for example, you had asked me 30 years ago, when, or 35 years ago, when I started researching bees’ behavior and intelligence, if you had confronted me with the notion that they might be sentient that they might even be intelligent, I would have thought this is ridiculous. It's, I would have thought it's untestable at best and quite possibly laughable at worst. Indeed, even human babies were still often operated on without anesthesia, because doctors said, well, yeah, they're screaming and kicking, but they don't actually feel anything. They're not conscious. So that view, I think, has changed a little bit. But specifically, the work that we did with my team over the decades, has changed my view of the world quite profoundly. And I think it adds a very important angle to our motivation to conserve the natural world. I think we're, we're all now aware that we need bees to thrive because they're doing something useful for us, they pollinate our crops. But that's an argument from utility. It's not one that grows out of respect. That motivation, I think, is less widespread yet for things like bees. And I think that's an important message that grows directly from our findings as this respect for other animals with other minds but no less valid ways of thinking and feeling about the world.

CK: So, tell me about the killer bee queens.

LC: So, I have a band, a music project, in which we generated an album, a kind of concept album, about the world of bees. It’s kind of 1980s style independent rock music album. And that came about because while of course I am scientifically deeply fascinated by bees, but there is of course, an element of poetry. And that if you think let's say just about the world of the honeybee drone, nowhere in the animal kingdom is sex and death so close together so they only ever mate once in their lives. But then they die, they die in the act of mating, basically. And all the many drones that are unsuccessful in ever finding a queen are basically slaughtered at the end of the summer, by the worker bees who no longer have any use for them at that time. And likewise, if you think about the queen's life, we tend to think of the bee society as one that's full of harmony and working together and cooperation. But a queen's life begins in a quite Shakespearean way by typically attempting and succeeding in many cases in killing all her competitors, all her sister queens, then she mates with drones, typically, with several dozen in rapid succession in these drone congregation areas. And they will never mate again, they basically turn to the life of a cave animal after these exciting, youthful experiences. And all of this, I think, lends itself to writing stories about and linking it to music.

CK: Lars, thank you. It's been fascinating. I learned so much. And I now think of bees so differently. Thank you.

LC: Thank you very much. This has been a very interesting conversation.

CK: That was Lars Chica author of The Mind of a Bee and this is his band Killer Bee Queens performing their song Drone Wars. You're listening to Milk Street Radio coming up Alex Ainouz’s quest to make perfect paella. That's in just a moment. I'm Christopher Kimball, you're listening to Milk Street Radio. I'm joined now by Lynn Clark to talk about this week's recipe. Basque style cheesecake. Lynn, how are you?

Lynn Clark: I'm doing great. Chris, how are you doing?

CK: We've been doing this so long. We must have done like what 10 cheesecakes by now I think or something.

LC: Probably yes, at least.

CK: At least. And it used to be cheesecakes, all neither water bath and they tend to be on the heavy side. But this time we did a Basque cheesecake, which has two things about it that are remarkable. A dark, almost black top, which I think adds a nice contrast. And then an interior that's I think more custody than heavy New York style cheesecake. So, it's got to be right up there on the top, you know, one or two cheesecakes getting the formula right. We thought it was going to be easy, but it turned out to be a little bit less easier than we thought.

LC: That's exactly right. So, this is from the Basque Country, San Sebastian in Spain. It originated at a little bar restaurant there called Lavinia you know, it's eggs, sugar, cream, cheese, and heavy cream. Basically, those are the only ingredients. The recipe was actually published by the chef who created it. So, we started with that thinking this is going to be great. We're going to have this really amazing recipe. It was great when we made it at Milk Street. However, we sent people out to try it at home and they had kind of wildly different results. So, it came down to you know, knowing your oven, taking the temperature of the cheesecake and your equipment. So, if you're using a light-colored pan, you want to bake it at 450 If you're using a darker color pan, you want to bake it at 425 and that will help get the proper results. But what we found that really kind of gave a good insurance policy on getting success with this recipe. And you know, when we think about cheesecake and kind of as a way to solve most cheesecake problems, it was chilling the batter. So, we chilled the batter for six hours, at least you can do it for 24 hours, that allows the cheesecake to kind of slowly come up to temperature, so you have enough time to get that really dark top. But the cheesecake itself doesn't get overcooked. So, you keep that nice custardy texture on the inside. And then you've got this really great contrast between the top and the creamy interior.

CK: And you can make it the day before because you can just slip it into the oven when you need to.

LC: Exactly. That's my favorite kind of dessert. I just made this over the weekend for a party. And it was great because they did all the work the day before I just put it in the oven, baked it and it was ready to go when people came over.

CK: Yeah, I noticed I didn't get an invitation to a party. It must have been great.

LC: It was my first time making it. I can't make it for you the first time.

CK: I know, there's always a reason. So Basque cheesecake has a almost Bert top as a custody center doesn't need a water bath and you can prepare the batter a day ahead. Thank you, Lynn.

LC: You're welcome. You can get the recipe for Basque style cheesecake at Milk Street

CK: This is Milk Street Radio. Now it's time to check in with Alex Ainouz. Alex, how are you?

Alex Ainouz: I'm good. Chris, how are you?

CK: I'm great. What's up.

AA: I've been working on paella recently, after doing a trip to Spain to Valencia, which is the birthplace of paella I have the urge to try and recreate this absolute magnificent dish that I tasted there. Now, I've always thought that paella was this huge pile of bright yellow and most fluorescent rice with tons and tons of toppings on it including any seafood you could think of and any meat you could think of. Paella is not that pie is first and foremost, properly cooked rice.

CK: Well, it's also a relatively thin layer of rice which is so different than sort of the 1960s and 70s pael recipes we had here.

AA: Exactly like the perfect paella is clearly a thin layer of rice. I'm talking about half an inch of rice in the pan and few toppings on it. It looks very minimal. Now after coming back from my trip to Spain, I understood the importance of rice and I made it a mission for myself to try and recreate that rice to perfection that you understand paella rice and to make it great it's about understanding first texture, but also flavor texture because by rice needs to be not overcooked not undercooked and every little grain of rice needs to be separated from the other. In terms of rice variety, paella is calling for Bomba rice is short grain rice that resists the cooking very well it's very resistant to overcooking in general. That rice needs to be cooked in a broth which obviously you have to make yourself. I made my broth using carrot, celery onion that's very classic broth, but I also added some elements of the sea because my dream paella is always with seafood. So, I use fish bones and also bits and pieces from scallops. Now when it comes to actually making the paella once you have all your ingredients ready, this is how you start to place a pan over medium heat and you start frying the toppings you're going to use afterwards frying the seafood I use two shrimps and two scallops and this is a serving for two person which may sound very minimal, almost.

CK: Incredibly cheap and stingy if I may add.

AA: I don't mind being judged as long as I keep the tradition alive. So, I went for two shrimps and two scallops. I fried them briefly and then I set them aside and then I actually focused on the rice first layer you roast a bit of tomato and pimento that is smoked paprika and also garlic in a pan with a bit of oil obviously, you then throw in the rice without any broth at first because you want to roast it and create some sort of a very thin crust on the rice. Then you add the stock and so starts the first stage of cooking the rice which is boiling the rice for 10 minutes. They’re easy, nothing complicated to it. After these 10 minutes. The grains are almost cooked, but they need to be simmered for another 10 minutes. Now during that time, you want to introduce all the delicate flavor that's when you want to bring back the scallops and the shrimps to the pan. And that's where you can also add some saffron, which I think is crucial to making paella both in terms of flavor and color. After these 20 minutes of cooking, you may think that the rice is now done, it's ready to be enjoyed. Wrong, you couldn't be more wrong. The last step.

CK: I love it when you get upset and start yelling,

AA: but I always get upset when I cook.

CK: You're passionate. Good for you.

AA: Exactly. The last crucial step without which, by account can’t be called paella is to create a secrète. A secrète is an almighty secret crust that is located at the very bottom of the pan, and you create that secrète that crust by briefly toasting the whole dish for 30 seconds on high heat. Once everything is cooked. That's a very scary move for a cook. Just imagine all the work you have put into that dish and you and you risk the chance of ruining it by doing this, but if you do it carefully, and you pray the gods of paella, you might end up with the perfect paella in the end.

CK: I didn't know the god of paella lived in Paris. Alex, thank you so much a quick lesson in making great paella. Take care.

AA: Thank you so much.

CK: That was Alex Ainouz, host of just A French Guy Cooking on YouTube. That's it for this week's show. Please don't forget you can find more than 250 episodes at Milk Street Radio at our website, milk street or wherever you get your podcasts. You can learn more about us at 177 Milk There you can become a member and get 1000s of recipes access to our online cooking classes and get free shipping on all orders from the Milk Street store. You can also learn about our latest cookbook, Milk Street Simple. Please check us out on Facebook at Christopher Kimbell’s Milk Street, Instagram is 177 Milk Street. We'll be back next week and thanks as always for listening.

Christopher Kimball's Milk Street Radio is produced by Milk Street in association with GBH co-founder Melissa Baldino, executive producer Annie Sensabaugh, senior editor Melissa Allison, producer Sarah Clapp, Assistant Producer Caroline Davis with production help from Debby Paddock. Additional editing by Sidney Lewis, audio mixing by Jay Allison and Atlantic Public Media in Woods Hole Massachusetts. Theme music by Toubab Krewe, additional music by George Brandl Egloff, Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street Radio is distributed by PRX.