The Life of Spice

Spice Camp in Bloomington Indiana

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Cardinal Spirits welcomes Lior Lev Sercarz

A chance meeting four years ago not only led to collaboration on a drink for Cardinal Spirits but to an upcoming special dinner and spice workshops by one of the world’s most well known spice experts, Lior Lev Sercarz.

Sercarz, owner of La Boite spice company in New York City, and Cardinal Spirit’s Adam Quirk began discussing the possibilities of creating a drink using Sercarz’ spices and Quirk’s gin. The result? Cardinal Spirits’ Terra Botanical Gin.

Quirk first emailed Sercarz “out of the blue.” Soon Quirk was visiting the shop in New York City, where he talked to the master spice blender. “I felt like I met a fellow traveler down the same path of taking raw things and making something wonderful,” Quirk said. “We hit it off and we’ve stayed in touch ever since.”

Sercarz said recently that he and Quirk are now talking about their next project, which is creating an Amaro, or Italian liqueur, together.

The collaboration is just one of the many that Sercarz has done with chefs, distillers, airline companies, pastry chefs and home cooks. In each case, Sercarz helps the person or company find a spice or blend of spices that fits their unique need. Before beginning his spice company, Sercarz cooked for more than 20 years in Israel, France and the United States. It was during that time that he developed his passion for spices.

Sercarz said that most people are intimidated by spices and don’t use as many as they should. “People are missing such great items in food, and I wanted to change the ways things are,” he explained.

The spices that are over-used or used incorrectly more than any others are salt and pepper, in Sercarz’ opinion. “People use salt and pepper without even thinking,” he said, adding they should first think of the quality of the spices they have and then if it’s necessary on that specific dish. Some ways to add more “spice” to a dish would be to substitute chiles for the pepper and use a different spice instead of salt, he advised.

Most people don’t think of spice on a daily basis, something Sercarz believes could be a reason they don’t truly taste some of their food. Having good quality spices is one of the most important aspects in cooking with them, he said.

“The good news is there are great spices all over,” he said. Stores are now carrying better quality spices and if a local store doesn’t have a certain spice or one that’s as good in quality as a person wants, they should ask them to bring in something new. He also said that online stores are a good way to try new and different spices, adding there is “no reason” for people not to purchase good quality spices to use in their homes.

While some people may believe it’s always best to purchase whole spices and then grind them yourself, Sercarz doesn’t agree. “I don’t think they should be punished,” he said of people who purchase ground spices. He does think that people should date their spices and then try to use them within a year, although he said there’s not a specific date in which a spice will go bad. It’s when they don’t “taste or smell like anything anymore” that he would recommend people trash them and purchase new spices.

As far as whether people should use a single spice or a blend, he believes that having both is best. Both add layers of complexity and people can create their own spice blends if they want.

If people want to try something different, Sercarz recommends trying a spice in a different type of dish. For instance, instead of using cinnamon as a dessert spice, try it in a savory dish instead. “Most of use would rarely incorporate it in a savory dish,” he said. “Take your spices and try to flip a little bit. Use dessert spices for savory and savory for desserts. The risk is not big at all.”

He stressed that people should not stop cooking the dishes they like but instead try to season it differently. As an example, if you like fish, try a different spice or blend of spices, whether it’s a rub or just added to the dish.

Doing experiments with spices makes cooking much more fun, Sercarz said. For people who want to learn more, he recommends purchasing a “great” book, such as his “The Spice Companion.” After a laugh, Sercarz said there are many other books that educate readers about the history of spices and how to get started.

“Once you start, you can’t go back,” he said. “It’s so fun to see how it turns out.” He has watched as people in his spice workshops “run for the kitchen and want to start cooking.”

For people who want to do just that, Sercarz will lead a workshop 7-9 p.m. March 2 at Cardinal Spirits. He and Cardinal Spirits also will host a spice dinner by Chef David Tallent at 7 p.m. March 1 at DeVault Alumni Center.

The visit from Sercarz comes during his book tour for “The Spice Companion,” which will be given to participants in the spice blending workshop along with small plate food and cocktails. Tickets cost $50 per person. A second spice workshop will be noon to 2 p.m. March 1 for food and beverage industry professionals.

For more on the workshop and dinner, go to cardinalspirits.com/spicecamp.

Spice Camp 2017

• A spice blending workshop with Lior Lev Sercarz will be 7-9 p.m. March 2 at Cardinal Spirits. Cost is $50 per person and includes small plate foods, cocktails and Sercarz’s latest book, “The Spice Companion.”

• A spice dinner by Chef David Tallent will be 7 p.m. March 1 at DeVault Alumni Center. Sercarz’ spices will be featured throughout the dinner, with optional paired cocktails by Cardinal Spirits. Ticket includes a signed copy of “The Spice Companion.” Tickets are $99 for one with beverage pairing, and includes tax and gratuity. A ticket without the beverage pairing costs $79.

• A spice blending workshop for food and beverage industry professionals, will be noon to 2 p.m. March 1 at Cardinal Spirits.

For more on the workshop and dinner, go to cardinalspirits.com/spicecamp.

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