I was at a culinary conference in New York earlier this year, where I booked an optional tour to Blue Hill. Chef Dan Barber was to lead the tour; following the tour, he was to engage in a discussion panel led by former food columnist for the New York Times, Molly O’Neill, while we enjoyed a wonderful luncheon. This was a very expensive optional tour, which I attempted to justify to my husband by showing him that Food and Wine Magazine had honored this restaurant by including them in their list of the “world’s top ten life changing restaurants.”
Please allow me to introduce Tom Erd, Spice Boss. My husband and I have owned The Spice House for 20 years. For many years prior to that we both worked there, for my parents, who founded our business in 1957. It is a long, long time to be doing the same thing, but hopefully we have gotten pretty good at it over all the years. We sometimes find we need to challenge ourselves with things a little outside of our everyday spice box, in order to keep our creativity flowing. Interesting propositions come our way all the time, mostly because we are a very approachable small Mom and Pop business. We have not figured out the rhyme or reason behind why on some days these just get shot down, and other days the ideas take on a life of their own. My scientific guess would be it just depends on which side of the bed we got up. When Tom started mulling over the idea of doing You Tube videos as Spice Man, I thought it was a passing fancy. Continue reading
Throughout our 55 year existence as a company, The Spice House has been offered a role in a variety of ventures. An upscale gourmet shop is looking for a spice vendor, for example. For the most part, we are not really all that interested in putting our products in other people’s shops, as we are sticklers for making sure the products we offer are of the highest quality and freshness. We know how many customers we have shopping with us in our stores, and how fast a product moves in and out. Products that don’t have enough of a market to keep them revolving from our grinding/blending room into you home cooking quickly enough get discontinued from our product line. However, when people discuss their projects with us, the line something to the tune of “we want only the highest quality spice vendor, and you are it” seems to hook us every time! This is how we ended up as a vendor at Artizone.The concept is actually pretty cool, and if you live in the Chicago area you should check it out. Continue reading
I recently attended a culinary conference in New York which was titled The Fashion of Food. There were some extremely interesting feature sessions, many about food and fashion being subjects of trends, fads or cycles. It is sometimes hard to discern what is the real deal and what is a flash in the pan trend that will not stand the duration of time. It occurred to me, as I listened to a wide variety of speakers discuss a diverse selection of food topics, that words fall into the same category. They go through trends, sometimes going mainstream, as when a word once newly created had enough use to get added to the Webster Dictionary. Sometimes they are overused and abused to the point that they become outed, or even banned by editors. The website , Serious Eats recently put out its secret list of banned words. Continue reading
At the IACP conference in New York this spring, I had the opportunity to attend a panel discussion at the Bon Appetit test kitchen. This was held at their newly designed kitchen, which I believe served as more of a showpiece kitchen for hosting functions, than an actual test kitchen. The panel contained designer Adam Farmerie, David Rockwell, author of the book Spectacle, Matt Lightner of the newly opened Altera and restaurant consultant Clark Wolf. Perhaps restaurant design is not a subject I had given much thought to before, so their thoughts about design were quite enlightening to me. Continue reading
We are so lucky to have wonderful customers. In addition to our mainstream of home cooks, we also number a huge amount of chefs, caterers, bakeries and other food related companies among our clientele. It is a really good feeling when we see chefs in their checked pants browsing the shop, they often just really like to hang around, absorb and smell and taste. This tells us we are doing something right. Yesterday Paula Haney, owner of Hoosier Mama Pie Shop even brought us a pie! A very delicious Dutch apple pie. Continue reading
Many wonderful things have happened to us over the years we have been in business, but very few have touched us as much as this event. On March 9th, we were particularly moved when a very special wedding took place. Elizabeth Theis married Landon Hall. What made this so heart warming to us, was that they met while working at The Spice House. Elizabeth had worked for us for a few years, we love her, she is a delight to her coworkers and our customers, and no one will take better care of you in the shop. Continue reading
It is with an extremely heavy heart that I share the news of the death of the founder of The Spice House, my father. Our loss is magnified in that we have also lost our mentor, the man who taught my husband Tom and I our craft, his teaching has bee
n an evolving process, one that we did not see coming to an end so soon. My Dad never stopped reaching out to us, pushing us to go further, look harder, re-examine our dedication to quality, to our customers, to our staff. He constantly challenged us to explore other vendors, new countries of origin, different connections, a twist in flavors, novel combinations. Yet his teachings were not just contained to the spice world, he also had some strong feelings and connections to, the inner spiritual world, and his tendencies toward philosophical teachings were perhaps the place where we struggled the hardest as his students. He believed that the spices had music in them, if you just knew how to listen. Our thoughts are that his spice work continues on through our stores, this gives us great comfort, and something to strive for.
Ocassionally we end up on a really nice roll of fun PR. In the current Greek Issue of Saveur magazine, we are recommended in their section called The Pantry, as a resource for our Aleppo pepper. They use it in this really great sounding recipe, roasted lamb with rosemary. (Saveur’s photo at left) We also had a nice mention in Food and Wine magazine this month, we are included in their list of five obsessed spice importers. This is one obsession we are okay with! NBC Chicago did a piece on our cinnamon last week, running with a trace back the ingredients concept. While tasting one of Bill Kim’s fantastic desserts, a Vietnamese Cinnamon caramel ice cream, at Urban Belly, they wanted to source his ingredients. He very generously led them to our Vietnamese Cassia Cinnamon. We can not wait to go and try this, by the way. Interesting how reporters sometimes know more about where are spices are ending up than we do! Last, but not least, we have made some wonderful connections via email correspondance with some really interesting food blog posters. I really want to thank Alice and Jared Zhao, who blog under eataduckimust, for their sensational blog post about The Spice House, calling us a Chicago Landmark. Your photography is awesome, by the way. So, who does handle the PR? Continue reading
The Spice House had the great privilege of hosting Julia Child when she visited Milwaukee. She was given a list of many food related places she might enjoy, and she selected our shop as one of her stops. We very carefully planned what we wanted to showcase. The first was a cinnamon log from Vietnam. This Saigon cassia cinnamon had been off limits to our country for many years, because of the trade embargo after the war with Vietnam. Much to our surprise, in a true Julia manner, she took the log that we were simply trying to display, grabbed it out of our hands, and bit off a huge piece of it. If you have never seen a cinnamon log, it is very much like a baseball bat. The bark is essentially wood. My entire family, rarely at a loss for words, sucked in our breaths. We were afraid she would break a tooth! To her credit, Julia kept masticating this hard bark, until it was soft enough to swallow, at which point she pronounced it DELICIOUS!
The second item in which we wanted to involve Julia, was the blending of our curry powder. We had mixed up a beautiful batch, our curry powder includes around 15 ground spices. Each spice, individually placed in our giant mixing bowl, resembles an artist’s easel. When we mix the batch, envision sand art, only with spices. So intrinsically beautiful. Yet Julia charged by this display focusing on an item we were not at all proud of, bacon granules! (this was a holdover from Milwaukee salad bars in the 70s) “Bacon granules, on my, how I would like to try these! My these are good!”
Julia later wrote a letter thanking us for her visit, which is still in my father’s possession. She wrote, ” The Spice House is a local, no, a National Treasure.” This letter is one of our most prized possessions. Thank you, Julia Child.