The Life of Spice

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 (www.evokeeternity.com)

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 helps 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 (www.evokeeternity.com)

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 www.spicespicebaby.com 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

 instagram: HelenSociality Squared
  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.

Vermont Spice with Courtney and Cara!

Events, News | |

This month we sit down with Cara Tobin and Courtney Contos, good friends and clients of ours up in Burlington Vermont. Later in May Lior will be joining them for a spice dinner at Honey Road and a spice blending demo at Chef Contos.

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Thank you two for taking the time. Can you each please tell us a bit about yourself and your business?

Cara – Totally! I’m the Chef/Owner of Honey Road Restaurant. We are an Eastern Mediterranean restaurant located on historic Church St. in downtown Burlington. We serve mezze style dishes that are inspired by the local produce, meats and dairy of Vermont. I started learning about eastern Mediterranean food while working at Oleana in Cambridge, Ma. I fell in love with the cuisine after my first trip to Turkey in 2011. It was life changing.

Courtney – Absolutely! I am the chef and owner of Chef Contos Kitchen & Store in Shelburne Vermont. We offer over 100 cooking classes a year and never repeat one. Named one of the best schools in the world by Food & Wine! The school is attached to a chef curated kitchen store that I always say is similar to William Sonoma’s rich aunt in Brooklyn!

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Mishmish Cup by Karen Fu

News, Recipes | |

This month we sit down with Karen Fu, Bar Manager at Studio at the Freehand hotel here in NYC.

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Congrats on the opening! We were excited to hear you are using one of our blends in a cocktail and wanted to hear more about it and about you.

Thank you! Honored and happy to answer questions.

The Mish Mish Cup is such an inventive riff on a sour. Did the blend inspire the drink? And were there any ideas that didn’t make the final cut but were still interesting?

The goal of the Mish Mish Cup was to create a whiskey sour that challenged the classic with a curveball, while remaining crushable. The arc of the cocktail started with Torres 15 Brandy and Tamworth Distilling Von Humboldt’s Tamarind Cordial which go great together. From there, I weaved the inspired theme of the Studio cocktail menu of color and fresh juices…together with the all-day eatery concept providing cold-pressed juices, gazoz, and delicious drinks that could seamlessly transition from day to night.  Yellow bell pepper juice for vegetal acidity and Jameson whiskey for the heather notes came into play, but it was difficult to reach a balancing point. Then I visited La Boîte, and was introduced to the Mishmish blend, which led to the addition of ginger, lemon, and honey to round out the cocktail, with crystallized honey and saffron spice notes on the rim for the ultimate finish.

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Wow! Mind sharing the recipe in case people want to try their hand at it at home?

No problem here you go:

Mish Mish Cup

1 teaspoon Ginger Syrup
.75 oz Honey Syrup
.5 oz Lemon Juice
.75 oz Yellow Bell Pepper Juice
2.75 oz Mish Batch (.75 oz Tamworth Tamarind, 1 oz Torres 15-Year, 1 oz Jameson)

Method: Shake, Fine Strain

Glass: Leopold Coupe

Garnish: half-rim of Mish Mish blend: 1 part white sugar, 1 part salt, 1 part La Boite Mishmish No. 33 (Crystallized Honey, Saffron, Lemon)

Do you have a process for coming up with new cocktails and how do the parts come together? For example balancing the need to include a particular ingredient with the more literary goal of inspiring an emotion, place, or memory. Walk us through?

The process starts with a wireframe of loose objectives like classic cocktail category, ingredients, or the spirit that serves as the base.  The theme of this particular project was abstractly COLOR, so as to not be restricted by parameters as I tend to overthink things. I started with fresh juices, and then went from there. Our eight cocktails provide a range of low ABV to spirit forward old-fashioned and martini riffs that can easily translate from afternoon tipple to party time when the sun goes down. Definitely am inspired with flavors and spices from memory of memorable dishes, and definitely associate places with aforementioned inspirations. I don’t necessarily factor emotion into the creative process, as I believe a well-balanced, well-nuanced drink should provide guests drinking it with evocative memories from whatever slate they may draw from.  As far as all the other parts, that’s just playing around with research and development and application of technical processes like infusions, sous vide, macerations, etc.

Any other favorite cocktails that prominently feature spices or spice blends?

PDT’s Spice Plum with Bank Golden 7-Island Rum, Clear Creek Slivovitz, Averell Damson Gin, and Cane Syrup with the La Boîte #26 Spice rim with Demerara sugar is a favorite!  Also love using Aleppo pepper, sugar, salt blends for rims, along with anything that’s blended with smoked salt.

Describe a perfect day off.

A perfect day off consists of sleep, Fierce Grace or Bikram yoga class, spending time outside, a scrumptious meal, and watching a fantastic movie or reading an awesome book– simply getting lost in a relaxing yet stimulating day.

What’s a dream you have that you’d like to realize in the near future?

Reaching life-work balance after these few months dedicated to marathon opening hours.  Traveling to Taiwan, Corsica, or Oaxaca in the coming months. Taking a trip to Los Angeles and seeing if I could envision living there.  Coming up with a summer menu that is streamlined and easy in execution, but also is considered innovative and crushable.

What’s one of the best things you’ve done that you never want to do again?

Haha I have a few: recreationally dance pointe, hula-hoop on cinder blocks of a Chinatown rooftop for an hour for a Christian Jankowski art project, chronically twist my weak ankles, and anything to do with surgery that is complicated for the female reproductive system.

Nice! Thanks so much!

Follow Karen for more updates and go say hi over at Studio

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instagramKaren Fu

Karen Fu is a Metuchen, New Jersey born,  now New York City resident of 15 years.  She took up bartending to supplement writing, inspired by the likes of Kerouac to sustain the lifestyle of both professions after attending Barnard College.  She struck lucky to be on the staffs of PDT and NoMad Hotel when on the receiving end of the James Beard Outstanding Bar Award, respectively, has bartended/managed at other excellent venues like The Happiest Hour/Slowly Shirley, Mayahuel, Donna Cocktail Club.  She is currently the bar director of newly opened Studio for Happy Cooking at Freehand New York.  When not immersed in the bar world, KFu is found practicing yoga, rediscovering hidden treasures in the city, and catching up with the feminist wiles of catpack.