Not long ago, I was faced with the dilemma that so many of us contend with regularly, the question of what to cook for dinner. Being a chef should exempt me from such difficulties; but having two kids that do not always agree with my avant-garde creations, I do get stumped. Inspiration is what I needed, and I knew exactly where to go. The Savory Spice Shop is my favorite place to go for culinary inspiration. With 400 herbs and spices, and over 140 unique seasoning blends, all available in amounts from ½ ounce to pounds, the Savory Spice Shop is a true Mecca of flavoring opportunity.
Walking in the door, an awe-inspiring array of options present themselves. The walls are lined with bottles, and labeled by category: baking, extracts, curry, chiles, barbecue, salts, peppercorns, herbs, seeds, and so on. To be perfectly honest, the first thing that I always notice upon entering the shop is the smell. Captivated to the core, my senses dance in delight at the melange of aromas all competing for attention. I feel as if I am transported to a Moroccan or Indian outdoor spice market, and all that is missing are the burlap sacks.
With such an array, it would seem easy to be daunted by the many options. However, there is no need to feel overwhelmed. Owner Matt Perry and his staff are very well versed in the merchandise, and encourage questions, directing shoppers to what they seek, and maybe even to options not even previously considered.
During my visit, I was talking with Spice Shop employees, Samantha Waltjen and Dawn Forrester, about what items customers find most interesting. Without hesitation, they both answered that the freeze-dried corn gets the most overall attention. The corn is available for sampling; I must admit to being skeptical due to its extra crunchy appearance. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it had the consistency of popcorn, with much better flavor and without the annoying bits-between-the-teeth effect.
Another item that receives much attention are the ghost chiles. Categorized as the hottest pepper in the world, ghost chiles are available at the shop in several forms, including dried, ground and ghost chile salt. The latter packs some heat, but it is extremely delicious. I was left imagining how tasty it would be mixed with butter, and maybe slathered over corn on the cob.
While the Savory Spice Shop is locally owned and operated, it is part of a franchise. As part of a larger group, the shop has buying power, and is able to buy in larger amounts than it would be able to as an independent merchant.
With the ability to buy herbs and spices in amounts as small as one half ounce, the public can buy just what they need, when they need it. This allows one to keep only the freshest spices on their shelf. This is important because what too many forget is that spices and herbs age and lose potency. So, while it may be a kind gesture, chances are that Grandma’s hand-me-down spices aren’t much good in the kitchen.
“What I’d like people to remember is that it’s important to use fresh spices to get the most out of them. Take out the spices in your kitchen and give them a smell. If you’re not getting a strong, pronounced aroma, then you’re not likely getting much flavor, either,” said Perry.
He has found that a vast repertoire of cooking techniques isn’t necessary to mix things up. By simply changing the seasoning, dinner can be Moroccan one night, Chinese another, and barbeque on yet another. This, my dear readers, is simplicity at its finest.
So, if what to cook for dinner is a tough question, stop by the Savory Spice Shop and find some answers.