Sure, Honeycrisps are pretty perfect as is. But do like Lior Lev Sercarz’s kids and ask for a sprinkle of not just any cinnamon, but Vietnamese cinnamon, on those apple slices.
The spice master, chef, spice blender and owner of La Boîte, a store dedicated to spice blends, French-style biscuits and cookbooks in New York City, is in town this weekend to inspire home cooks to play more with spices.
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His third book, released this month, is Mastering Spice: Recipes and Techniques to Transform Your Everyday Cooking, focusing on helping home cooks make the most out of their meals by employing spices.
In honor of the release, 2941 Restaurant in Falls Church has partnered with Sercarz to create a seven-course prix fixe menu, with several dishes based on spice blends from the new book, such as sea scallop crudo with Bombay vinaigrette, green apple and celery and the cocoa-chile spiced rib-eye and pomme croquette.
Sercarz will be on-site Sunday, Oct. 27, to create the first run of the menu, with 2941 Restaurant’s executive chef, Bertrand Chemel, starting at 6 p.m. If you can’t make it for Sercarz’s appearance, the restaurant will offer the menu through the month of November for $150 per person.
Servarz will also host a two-hour spice-blending class alongside Chemel (Sunday, Oct. 27. at 10:30 a.m.; $90).
We caught up with Sercarz to find out more about Mastering Spice, the inspired dinner and his visit to Northern Virginia. Highlights from our conversation, below.
Can you talk a bit about Mastering Spice and how it came to be?
It came from my friend and editor, when she brought up the idea saying, “What you do with spices in your everyday cooking seems obvious to you, but, you know, a lot of people could really use that. All of these tips and tricks and methods that you apply at home very simply as a professional chef, why don’t you share them with everybody?”
What I realized over time is that my family likes certain things, certain proteins, certain vegetables, and instead of messing up what they like, I only changed the flavoring each week or each time, so it just takes on a different flavor. But it’s still a familiar protein or produce or a grain. That’s what led me to this idea of saying, “What if we could teach home cooks how to master very simple, everyday recipes and let them get really good at cooking them?” So, once you get the technique nailed down and it becomes kind of natural, you can start playing around and just changing the seasoning every time and get a different flavor profile. And that makes it super interesting.
This book sounds like it’s perfect for the home cook who is looking to spice things up.
Yes, and we made a point to say, “If I had the average spice pantry at a house, what would it have?” What can we use to show that you might have most of these things already, or things that are very accessible at your local store, so you don’t have to run and start sources very unique spices? And if you don’t have [a specific spice], that’s fine. Don’t use it. Pull it out, put something else instead that the chicken would still taste delicious, or your soup or eggs, and you don’t have to start running around buying these things.
What should people know about the spices that they might have at home?
The one thing you should think of with spices is that they are an ingredient. You know, it’s something you should pay attention to. Ask yourself, “Can I use spice here?” And if the answer is yes, then ask, “What should I be using?” Really pay attention to the spices in the same when you do when you shop for proteins and vegetables. Spices deserve the same amount of attention, and they should cost something, too. You can get a bargain but it could potentially be old.
Also, spices aren’t something that should be reserved for certain special occasions or a holiday. That’s where I think a lot of people are hesitant. “Why should I think of adding spices to my eggs when I’m making breakfast?” And then they do it for the first time and it’s pretty life-changing to the point that they wonder, “Why wasn’t I doing this before? Why was I ignoring all of these things when I could get a much better, delicious dish?”
What are you looking forward to with the seven-course dinner and cooking class at 2941?
For the dinner, we have done a few over the years and it’s always amazing to see how the team at 2941 uses the blends that I create.
For the class, I’m going to be doing a class about how you blend, what it takes to blend spices together, some tips and tricks and ideas so that people can start making their own. And we’re going to integrate the blends into a few recipes and then they can take the blend home. not only will they get to make the blend, they’ll get to go home and cook with it right away.
What is your biggest goal for readers of Mastering Spice?
One of my main goals is to just get people in the kitchen to enjoy cooking. And if I could do it through recipes to get people excited to cook, and to know that they’re eating and they can take control of it, then that’s a huge achievement.
And when I meet people that tell me about their experience of cooking my recipes or using my spices at home and how it changed them, it’s one of the most amazing things that I can ever imagine, just being part of people’s lives or their dishes or their cooking on a daily basis, without me even being there. It’s a huge accomplishment. I love cooking so much; it has made my life so good, and I want to share that with others and show them the fun and beauty of it, so they can enjoy it too. Why would I keep it for myself, you know? There’s no point in that.