The Life of Spice

Frédéric Panaïotis, Chef de Caves for Ruinart Champagne

News | |

This month we sit down with Frédéric Panaïotis, Chef de Caves for Ruinart Champagne and our collaborator on the new 1764 spice blend, specially crafted to create dishes to pair with Ruinart’s rosé champagne.

We’re very excited about the 1764 spice collaboration, commemorating the date of the first rosé champagne produced by Ruinart, and would love to hear more from you about the project and about yourself

I have always admired Lior’s marvelous spice concoctions, so was really excited when we decided to work together on a Ruinart blend. I have been the Ruinart Chef de Caves for over 11 years and have a particular fondness for our rosé. It is a truly festive champagne that can be enjoyed year round. Creating a spice that would elevate and transform dishes that pair with the Ruinart Rosé no matter the season was a natural for us. I love to experiment in the kitchen and am so happy we can encourage clients to do the same with the Ruinart 1764 blend.

People in the United States are finally coming around to drinking champagne as a wine, that is with food. Can you share a few memorable pairings of Ruinart Rosé with food?

Rosé is probably the most flexible and adaptable champagne to pair with food. You can easily pair it during a whole meal, from aperitif all the way to desserts. One of my most memorable pairings with Ruinart Rosé was with a Peking Duck at Spring Moon, the Chinese restaurant at the Peninsula Hong Kong. The complex texture and flavors of this dish are a perfect companion to Ruinart Rosé.

Another unforgettable match (which I’ve tried many times in fact) was with the classic Ispahan cake by Pierre Hermé. The flavors of litchi, raspberry and rose seem to have been made to create the perfect pairing!  

To that end we’ve tailored the 1764 blend to create dishes that even further highlight the flavors and aromas of Ruinart Rosé, do you have a favorite from among the suggested recipes?

The roasted rack of lamb with caramelized onions and yogurt & orange sauce. So good with the Ruinart Rosé!

What are your three go-to things to cook or to eat?

I love to eat and prepare Japanese food so I would definitely say:

o   Sushi (and it pairs so well with Ruinart Blanc de Blancs)

o   Soba (buckwheat) served with seafood, uni being my favorite – and yes, I prepare my own dashi

o   But I also love to BBQ. I love to cook a dry-aged T-bone steak on the grill

Many of our readers are not familiar with the responsibilities of a cellar master, can you please describe your typical week?

The best part of my job is that there is no such thing as a typical week– not even a typical day!

During the main period of the year, following harvest, my team and I typically do one tasting of the vins clairs or base wines each day to evaluate the quality of the past harvest. This process is critical to create the Ruinart non-vintage blends with the greatest consistency. In some afternoons, I will also welcome some wine professionals, journalists, sommeliers and wine shop owners to taste the Ruinart range.

There are many other things to do during the week of course, like meeting with the team to plan the release of future cuvee (so riddling, disgorgement, dosage…).

What do you like most about your job?

The people I get to meet, either here in Champagne or wherever I travel to. Of course working with grapes, transforming them into wines, blending them, seeing the champagne being created then age is amazing, but I find the most interesting part is sharing my passion with employees, colleagues, and consumers. This is probably the most rewarding part.

What’s your favorite thing to do when you are not working?

Freediving! It’s an activity I’ve been practicing for many years, and I love to train – hard – in the pool so that I can dive deep whenever I have the chance to go to warm and deep waters. It’s amazingly relaxing, like meditation under water, and a great way to counterbalance an exhilarating job. 

 What’s one dream you have that you’d like to achieve?

One of the projects I’ve had in mind for years is to ride the Trans-Siberian train from Moscow to Lake Baikal and free-dive there! I’m currently working on my Russian so I can fully enjoy this experience. I’ll also make sure to bring along a few bottles of Ruinart Rosé to drink during the ride!


The 1764 blend is available from Clos19 as a beautiful gift set together with a bottle of Ruinart Rose.

Please follow this link to purchase.

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Frédéric Panaïotis:

Frédéric Panaïotis is Chef de Caves at the Champagne House of Ruinart, in Reims, France.

As a child, Panaïotis spent much of his time in the small Champagne vineyards of his grandparents, sampling the fruits of their labor.  His professional career began with a compulsory training period at the Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne, where he studied the méthode champenoise process in general and wine clarification in particular, including fining, filtration and riddling.  Over the years, Panaïotis returned several times to the Comité, subsequently specializing in the interaction of cork and wine, and training the professional panel on different tasting procedures.  His winemaking apprenticeship included appointments in France and California.

Panaïotis graduated from the Institut National Agronomique Paris-Grignon with a specialization in Viticulture-Oenologie, followed by a degree from the Ecole Supérieure d’Oenologie de Montpellier in 1988.

Frédéric Panaïotis joined Champagne Ruinart in 2007 as Chef de Caves. In this position, he has the responsibility of creating the blends, from the non vintages Blanc de Blancs and Rosé to the prestige cuvees of Ruinart, Dom Ruinart and Dom Ruinart Rosé.  He also plays a significant role in the communication efforts of Champagne Ruinart, travelling extensively to international markets.

Blue Stripes by Oded Brenner

News | |

This month we sit down with Oded Brenner to talk about his new venture, Blue Stripes Cacao Shop, and the spices we did together that elevate his cacao drinks.

Thanks for taking the time Oded, we’re excited to collaborate with you and would love to learn more about your concept and vision. Notably you’ve opened a cacao and not a chocolate shop, can you explain the difference?

The name says it all, we are the first cacao shop that showcases the entire cacao fruit. We create a new experience by using the raw pulp of the cacao fruit. Lightly textured and sweet, we use it to make energy drinks and bowls. We also take cacao beans from different single origins and grind them fresh on the spot using a unique grinder that creates a smooth paste. We cook this with water, condensed milk, and spices, creating our ultimate version of hot chocolate.

Interesting! How did your interest in cacao begin?

I’ve been in the chocolate business for twenty-five years and became more and more curious about the cacao fruit and I learned more about chocolate. I believe that the market in general is heading in a direction where we explore the origins of ingredients in their pure form and reconnect. There is a lot for people to learn who do not live in the countries where cacao is grown.

Consumer education is also a top priority for us. What’s something most people don’t know about cacao?

Very few people get to try the fruit itself or taste the pulp, only ever having the roasted beans or chocolate made from them. The pulp surrounding the beans has a unique tropical flavor, with notes of litchi and passionfruit, and is full of nutrients. There are plenty of people who have never seen the whole cacao pod and do not know how or where is grows. At Blue Stripes people can enjoy something tasty and healthy and learn all of these wonderful things about cacao.

Can you tell us a bit more about the spice blends you had us make for you and how you are using them?

If you go back to the producing countries there is more of a spice culture, exotic to much of the western world. In central and south american countries cacao is never made into a beverage without spices. We asked for blends that connect to and evoke that sense of place so that everything makes sense when we pair them with our single origin cacao beans.

Thanks! Can you share a couple dishes on your menu that you’re especially fond of?

Of course. We’re very proud of our clouds, it’s a chocolate mousse on tap. Using nitrous oxide we create a liquid frothy chocolate milk that holds its shape. We also make granola bowls with the cacao pulp, which allows people to experience the fruit in a fresh and healthy new way. And I have not lost my taste for fun. We have the cake and shake, and milkshake with a small cake on top, so you have something delicious to drink after dessert. And we make the ultimate chocolate croissant, we split a freshly baked croissant and melt a chocolate bar inside, so every bite is perfect.

Those all sound amazing, thank you very much!

You are very welcome! It’s been a pleasure and everyone is loving the spices!


Blue Stripes Cacao Shop is at 28 E 13th Street here in New York (btwn 4th and 5th ave). They open every day at 7am and you should definitely go check them out!


Follow Blue Stripes for more updates

 instagram:  bluestripescacao


Oded Brenner:

Oded Brenner, aka The Bald Man, has been creating confectionary wonders and revolutions for the past two decades. From an early age Brenner possessed an entrepreneurial spirit, leaving Israel at 22 to pursue his passion for chocolate making. He apprenticed throughout Europe, working with renowned pastry and chocolate experts such as George Maushagen, Parisian sweet purveyor Fauchon, and chocolatier Michelle Chaudun.

Brenner brought his culinary knowledge back to his Israel where he opened a small chocolate shop. It was here that he began to expose people to the wild side of cacao and lay the groundwork for his future in chocolate. He created a shop like a fashion designer’s atelier, making the experience interactive by sprinkling chocolate in people’s hands and offering tastes of chocolate from huge slabs. In 2006, Brenner opened his first American location of Max Brenner, Chocolate by the Bald Man. His new project Blue Stripes is a shop devoted to all things cacao, from fruit, to bean, to chocolate.

Spice Spice Baby w/ Kanchan Koya

Inspiration, Recipes | |

This month we sit down with Kanchan Koya, founder of Spice Spice Baby, an online platform dedicated to sharing the health benefits of spices and making those benefits accessible through easy to follow and delicious recipes.

Spice spice baby | Photography by Wayne Wong with Evoke Eternity (

Thank you very much for taking the time to sit down with us, we focus on the culinary side of spices, so it’s nice to hear from someone who can speak to the nutritional side. You have a background in Molecular Biology, how did this inform the approach that you took to cooking and nutrition? What is something you discovered that surprised and delighted you?

During my PhD in molecular cancer biology, I learned first hand that our bodies have an innate capacity to heal and repair themselves if we just provide them with the right nourishment. It’s truly not rocket science. The evidence tells us that if we eat whole, unprocessed foods and limit the ‘junk’, our bodies will take care of the rest (good quality sleep, movement, and social interaction help too!). So my approach to cooking and nutrition is quite simple – loads of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds, good fats like olive oil, wild-caught fish, pasture-raised, high quality meats, and so on. And of course, SPICES, thanks to their wide ranging benefits like blood sugar control, anti-inflammatory effects, anti-oxidant powers, brain health-boosting properties, and so on and so forth – are powerful tools to aid these natural healing processes, while also serving as mega flavour-enhancers! So they go into pretty much every meal I whip up.

What has surprised and delighted me is how genuinely delicious healthy food can be! I don’t believe in banning the ‘junk’ foods so we do enjoy them on occasion in a celebratory and unapologetic way, but what is quite fascinating is how eating a real, unprocessed food-based diet literally changes your preferences so you crave less of those ‘treat’ foods. It’s truly a lifestyle of abundance rather than deprivation.

Spice spice baby | Photography by Wayne Wong with Evoke Eternity (

I love that you draw distinction between spicy and hot, something we’ve always done at La Boîte. Do you have a few favorite spices that you always find yourself reaching for, and why?

Yes, one of the biggest misconceptions is that all spices are hot and therefore inappropriate for sensitive palates, especially children. In fact, as you well know, most spices are not hot at all but, depending on the spice, infused with sweet, citrusy, bitter, earthy, and other wonderful notes.

When cooking for my family, I find myself reaching for cinnamon, cardamom, and nutmeg whenever I make sweeter recipes like pancakes, breads, muffins, smoothies, cookies, porridge, or sweet vegetables like sweet potatoes and butternut squash. Cinnamon is just fantastic for balancing blood sugar. I mostly use Ceylon cinnamon for its low coumarin (liver-toxin) content though, on occasion, I will use the stronger Cassia variety for meat curries. I think kids are naturally drawn to sweet flavours and these aforementioned spices lend sweet and luxurious attributes to dishes without refined sugar.

When doing savory dishes, turmeric, sweet and smoked paprika, cumin, coriander, and sumac are my favorites. In addition to being good for digestion and unwanted inflammation, I find they work with many different family-friendly ingredients and are mild enough to be pleasing to all ages. My 15 month old daughter will only eat baked sweet potato fries with sumac or La Boite’s Yemen blend, never plain! Kids learn to love what they are exposed to so I urge all parents to keep exposing their little ones to a wide variety of spices and flavors. Eventually (some take longer than others), they will bite!

It’s wonderful that you’re able to draw on spice rich Indian traditions and recipes. Aside from purchasing your book of course, what would you recommend to someone who wants to start incorporating spices into their daily meals.

Don’t be under the impression that you have to cook an elaborate, ethnic dish to enjoy the magic of spices. Cinnamon or nutmeg in your morning oats, cardamom in pancakes, turmeric in scrambled eggs, crushed coriander seeds and garlic on a chicken breast, Chinese 5 spice on salmon, sumac on roasted cauliflower – I could go on and on – and you see right away that the recipes are simple, family-friendly, and easy to execute on busy weeknights. I urge people to be playful and experiment with new combinations. The rules are wonderful starting points but it’s more fun when you break them! A spinach and basil pesto with coriander and sweet paprika may sound very odd but it turned out to be a delicious combination and is now a recipe in the cookbook.

Do you have a couple spicy recipes you’d like to share with us?

Yes! Sweet Paprika Fish with Tomato Tarragon Chutney and Cinnamon and Cardamom Healthy Banana Oat Chia Muffins are always a hit with my family and guests and are healthy to boot!

One of your emphases as a parent is incorporating spices into food for children, especially since there isn’t really a historical precedent for separate children’s food or menus. What is your advice for new parents who’d like to spice up the food of their children?

The new rule for feeding babies and kids is that there are no rules (except for honey, which shouldn’t be offered to babies under 12 months). I recommend working towards feeding babies and kids what you yourself eat even if you have to puree it to make it smoother for younger babies (though some will surprise you with their love for textured foods!). Remember that babies don’t like bland food, they like what they are exposed to on a regular basis. As far as spices go, start with aromatic ones – cardamom, cinnamon, sweet paprika, turmeric, coriander, and sumac are well liked by palates of all ages. Some of my favorite first foods for babies incorporating spices are pears and banana with cardamom, mashed potatoes with sweet paprika, carrots and peas with turmeric and cumin, sweet potatoes with cinnamon, and eggs with sumac. Once these simple, first foods are well established, you can quickly move to more complex combinations and essentially one family meal for all. And most importantly, don’t be disheartened by rejection – it can take 10 or more exposures for a child to accept a new food. And just putting the food on baby’s plate, even if they don’t touch it, counts as an exposure!

Thank you very much! Any exciting projects on the horizon?

In addition to spreading the word on the Spice Spice Baby cookbook and getting it into more hands around the world, I am working on a second cookbook that uses spices and food as medicine, particularly for anxiety, depression, and childhood obesity, all heartbreakingly on the rise. I am also creating a health coaching online program focused on postpartum mothers who are struggling to regain their vitality. The multi-pronged recommendations in the program will most definitely include some delicious spiced delights!

Follow Kanchan for more updates

 instagram:  Chiefspicemama
  facebook: Chiefspicemama

Kanchan Koya:

Kanchan Koya has a PhD in Biomedical Sciences from Harvard Medical School and a Health Coaching certification from the Institute of Integrative Nutrition. She is the founder of Spice Spice Baby, a platform dedicated to shedding light on the science-backed health benefits of ancient spices and suggesting nourishing recipes your whole family (babies and kids included!) can enjoy. She recently published her first spice resource and cookbook, Spice Spice Baby: 100 Recipes with Healing Spices for your Family Table through a very successful crowdfunding campaign. Learn more about Kanchan and Spice Spice Baby at When Kanchan is not whipping up a new spiced delight in her kitchen, she enjoys a long and strenuous yoga class, checking out the newest restaurant, a glass of good red wine, and cuddles with her her husband and kids. She lives in Brooklyn, New York where thankfully, all of the above are always on the menu. 

Helen Todd of Sociality Squared

News, Videos | |

This month we sit down with Helen Todd, co-founder & CEO of social media agency Sociality Squared. She recently put together a panel at SXSW including Lior and our good friend and photographer Thomas Schauer, and we’re going tease out some insights and get her perspective on the food related aspects of her work.

Thanks Helen for taking the time. First off, your agency works with diverse clients across many industries, and a few food companies in particular. Who are some of your clients in the food world and what’s a recent campaign you’re particularly proud of?

First, we think a lot about food here at Sociality Squared! We have a chef on the team, food photographers and videographers, and foodies. Having a passion about food in our personal lives fuels the work we do for our clients. From cooking meals together as a team to hosting dinners to providing food photography services, we believe that food fosters creativity, conversation, and community.

We clearly love working with food and beverage clients! We have helped restaurants like Bonchon Chicken and CPG brands like Wild Turkey bourbon, Helena Valley Wine, and Popcorn, Indiana.

Right now, we’re having a lot of fun with Muuna cottage cheese, a brand that’s disrupting the dairy aisle with their ridiculously creamy, protein-packed cottage cheese. We’re not only managing all of their social media channels and influencer activations, but we’re also developing recipes for them and shooting social-first photos and “Tasty-style” videos. Then we’re turning the creatives into GIFs, Instagram Stories, and other compelling social media content optimized for each of the brand’s channels.

Last month we shared a Spring Green Zucchini Noodles with Protein-Packed Pesto recipe. Zoodles are very popular right now, and we wanted to make a recipe that was easy, vegetarian and healthy, incorporating Muuna cottage cheese as a no-cook protein to really stand out in the feeds.

The recipe video was shared across social media including Facebook, Instagram (Stories and Feed), Pinterest, and LinkedIn. The video published on Facebook alone has over 33,000 views and over 85,000 people reached!

The post was promoted on Facebook and we saw $0.01 cost per 10-second view. Compared to other advertising, this result is phenomenal. Plus, it was fun to shoot (and eat)!

Thanks! The panel you put together for SXSW discussed the Era of Camera-First Food. What would you like to highlight as some takeaways from the presentation and what are your views on how our relationship towards food as consumers has shifted with the advent of social media platforms and the democratization of content generation?

It was really wonderful to get to explore our digital relationship with food at SXSW Interactive this year with Lior, Thomas, and Michael as part of the conference’s food track. We pointed out that in today’s age, we eat with our eyes and the camera. Factor in that food is inherently social and everyone with a smart phone can take a photo leads to implications and opportunities for brands.

The kitchen table is the original social network. It is where friends and families are nourished not only through what’s on their plates, but also through connecting with each other through stories.

Social media brings the same principles of storytelling and connecting with each other to the table, digitally, and at a much bigger scale for relationship-building regardless of physical proximity. This spills over to brands too: People want to connect through emotive storytelling, and see real, authentic content from brands.

As you mentioned in your question, food photography was once reserved for professional photographers and advertisers but now it has been democratized. Anyone with a smartphone, a plate, and an Instagram account can partake in this new social currency. As Lior said on stage, everyone can be part of the club.

That said, while we are digitizing and pixelating our food, you still need to actually eat IRL (in real life)! Food will keep us human even as virtual reality and augmented reality expands. You can explain something on Instagram and take a good photograph, but that doesn’t capture the full experience of actually consuming the food. The smell, the taste – these don’t translate digitally. And that’s a good thing.

A friend, who was in the audience at SXSW and runs a dining event company, shared that after listening to the panel he now ensures that all of his events and food are camera-ready. This was great to hear, and I hope the panel inspires more brands to think camera-first.

-Check out the full presentation here-

Got it. Regarding restaurants specifically: both forbidding and encouraging photography of dishes can be seen as a form of control, one overt, one more subtle. You mentioned that you would prefer to patronize the latter, can you elaborate? Would you overall prefer a restaurant that didn’t go to either extreme?

I have been to restaurants that haven’t allowed photos to be taken to either control the imagery Beyoncé-style or because they really want their guests to focus on their meals and conversations, and not their phones. I can appreciate this approach since I’ve also hosted private dinners where phones aren’t allowed at the table, so notifications and texts aren’t distracting people from the food and conversation at hand.

That said, I do prefer restaurants that embrace food photography from their guests (and provide good lighting!). Food is inherently social, and we as human beings are social. Sharing what matters to you, including what you eat, is a form of self-expression and a medium to connect with others. If a guest creates a photo of his or her dish, that’s a big compliment to the restaurant, not to mention the free promotion of the restaurant to that person’s friends, family, and online community!

The restaurants who foster food photography and Instagrammable moments make it even easier for guests to share their experiences. This is just an evolution of plating, and as I mentioned earlier, we’re now eating with our eyes and our cameras.

© Kelsey Fain

Interesting. As a strictly visual medium, photographs and video rely on memory and past experience to supply the missing pieces. Especially when it comes to food, most of the impact occurs because of processing by the viewer. What are some tips you have for both individuals and brands to maximize the impact of their content?

Interestingly, one study showed when food is photographic, and it’s worthy enough to take a photo, we are actually going to enjoy it more. There’s a ritual to it, of taking a photo, a hesitation and appreciation of it, and it makes it look better.

Brands who are not adapting to this change will fail, and the brands that are thinking social-first and with the camera in mind are already excelling (of course, Sociality Squared can help your brand if you’d like!). One example is Starbucks that has created zombie and unicorn Frappuccino’s following their customers organically creating these Instagrammable beverages.

Brands need to join the conversation, and creativity is key. We always encourage exploring and playing with different visuals to make your content exciting and get your messaging across. All of the platforms are constantly updating how people and brands can express themselves, so test them out and see what resonates most with your fans. If you’re not already using video and Instagram Stories, add this to your content strategy and mix. It’s all about video!

Thanks! Yeah compelling visuals are a great way to introduce new people to good products. Changing gears a bit, do you have a favorite food and/or spice yourself? What do you love about it?

My favorite spice is ginger, though it’s hard to choose! I love fresh ginger every morning with hot water, lemon, honey, and cayenne. I also love ginger in teas and dishes, especially Thai ones – I can never have enough.  

One thing I love about spices in general is that there’s something about the aroma of them that takes you back to a certain memory or experience. When you smell it or taste it, you’re transported to another time; yet, you’re also making new memories with each bite.

I have a special Italian spice blend from Urzi’s Italian Market from the Hill in St. Louis. Every time I use it for my sauces, it takes me back to eating ravioli with my aunts and uncles at my grandmother’s house on the Hill for the holidays.

Exploring the relationship between food and social media is a delicious adventure that is always evolving and exciting. And doesn’t the saying go, “variety is the spice of life”? 😉

Follow Helen and Sociality Squared for more updates

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  facebook: Sociality Squared


Helen Todd:

Helen is Co-founder and CEO of Sociality Squared, a full service social media agency based in New York City helping brands grow loyal and engaged communities since 2010. She is an award-winning marketer, international speaker, and also an advisor and speaker for SXSW Interactive. Helen graduated from Xavier University and holds a Master’s degree in Integrated Marketing Communications from Emerson College.