June 16, 2023

A Middle Eastern Pantry with Lior Lev Sercarz of La Boîte Spice Shop

A Middle Eastern Pantry with Lior Lev Sercarz of La Boîte Spice Shop

This week, my guest is Lior Lev Sercarz. Lior is the chef, spice blender, and owner of La Boîte, a spice shop in New York City. He's previously released the cookbooks The Art of Blending, The Spice Companion and Mastering Spice. This week, he released his 4th book, A Middle Eastern Pantry. In this new cookbook he focuses on the everyday ingredients used throughout this vast region, including Turkey, Tunisia, Yemen, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Armenia, Jordan, and more, as he offers an homage to the pantry staples that define Middle Eastern cuisine.

In addition to discussing his cookbooks, we talk about why he started his spice company, and how it’s evolved since its inception. Currently, he has around 100 spice blends that are available to the public, but he makes an additional 200 blends specifically for other restaurants and businesses. Additionally, he sells 80-90 single spices. 

We also talk about the procurement process, the quality of his spices, and spice use today vs back in the 80’s. You know…way back when your mom probably had just pepper, granulated garlic and a musty old can of paprika. And not related to spices, we talk about the formation of the Galilee Culinary Institute, something he’s really passionate about. 

LIOR LEV SERCARZ

Buy the book A Middle Eastern Pantry
The La Boîte website
Instagram: Lior & La Boîte
The Galilee Culinary Institute
Other books: The Art of Blending, The Spice Companion and Mastering Spice

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Transcript

Chris Spear 0:00 What if there were no spices? Do you imagine how boring our food would be? Well, thankfully that's not the case. And today, my guest is Lior Lev supercars of laguan. Get ready for the spice episode. This is Chris spear and you're listening to Chefs Without Restaurants. The show where I speak with culinary entrepreneurs and people working in the food and beverage industry outside of a traditional restaurant setting. We are as the chef, Vice blender and owner of lewat spice shop in New York City. He previously released three cookbooks, the art of blending the spice companion and mastering spice. This week he released his fourth book, a Middle Eastern pantry. In this new cookbook. He focuses on the everyday ingredients used throughout this vast region, including Turkey, Tunisia, Yemen, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Armenia, Jordan and more as he offers an homage to the pantry staples that define Middle Eastern cuisine. In addition to discussing his cookbooks, we talked about why he started his Spice Company and how it's evolved since its inception. Currently, he has around 100 spice blends that are available to the public, but he makes an additional 200 specifically for other restaurants and businesses. Additionally, he sells 80 to 90 single spices. We also talk about the procurement process, the quality of his spices, and spice use today versus back in the 80s. You know, way back when your mom probably had just pepper, granulated garlic and a musty old can of paprika. And not related to spices. We talked about the formation of the Galilee Culinary Institute, something that he's really passionate about. I'm going to assume that my listeners like food with flavor, therefore, think you're going to love this show. And if you are indeed loving the show, please help me grow my audience. The best way is to tell someone about it. Maybe share the episode on social media, or share your favorite episode. Also, you can rate and review it. The best place is on Apple podcasts. If that's where you listen to the show. It really does matter. And this week's episode will be coming right out after a word from this week's sponsor, the United States personal chef Association and hireachef. Are you a personal chef looking for support and growth opportunities? Look no further than the United States personal chef association with nearly 1000 members across the US and Canada. USPCA provides liability insurance certification lead generation and more. Consumers can trust that their meal experience is ensured and supported by USPCA. And now for a limited time, save $75 on new membership and get your premier listing on hire chef by using the code TaxBreak2023 at uspca.com Plus, if you have products or services to sell chefs and their clients showcase your business on higher chef and USPCA websites with our great introductory packages. To learn more about membership advertising or partnership opportunities call Angela at 1-800-995-2138. Extension 705or email aprather@uspca.com. Hey Lior. wWlcome to the show. Thanks so much for coming on today. Lior Lev Sercarz 3:10 Thanks for having me. Chris Spear 3:12 You are the Spice guy, right. I'm ready to talk spices. Are you ready to talk to me since today? Always, always, always, always. You know, I think it's one of those things it's to me seems funny, strange that, like I didn't grow up eating a lot of spices. And we can dig into this. Like, I don't know, I grew up as I feel like in the 80s like a traditional American household where my mom had like two or three things in the pantry, you know, salt, pepper and maybe granulated garlic. We didn't eat a lot of ethnic food. And you know, now like 40 years later, you know, housewives are using harissa paste, and you know, all kinds of interesting things. And I just think it's so fantastic to see kind of the landscape of what people in America are eating, not just in restaurants, but cooking in their own homes. I mean, that obviously must be cool for you to see. Lior Lev Sercarz 4:02 Yeah, I think, you know, first of all, you're not alone. So don't feel bad. I mean, there's millions like you and there's millions who are still probably with those things, same three items at home with the garlic and salt, pepper, maybe some onion, you know, maybe so but but the reality is that things are changing quite rapidly. And you know, when we started lab, what 16 years ago, it's far it was far from what their reality is today. I think that for the longest time you know, ethnic food wasn't really a thing that you ate out in a restaurant. So it was reserved to certain ethnicities, certain cultures, in certain countries, in what do we you know, what we thought of being ethnic or international was, I wouldn't say mediocre, but not such a good interpretation of what it was meant to be. What happened over the last 1520, maybe 30 years is, you know, first of all exposure via media, of other places, other countries, the simple fact that food is finally a good subject of conversation. You know, I remember, you know, telling my parents that I wanted to be a cook, they were horrified that it's what you did if you failed anything else. And I think that it's now a valid, respectful profession, it's still not easy, it's still a very physical challenging, but it's it's more accepted and finally talked about what it was. People travel more, obviously, with the whole launch of electronic devices, Schluss social media, we get information in seconds. And we now know what everybody's cooking and eating around the planet. And it gets us curious and excited. And, you know, as you start digging into these components, and history and stories, you are bound to find spices. And I think that what was and still is, sadly, an afterthought, is finally becoming an ingredient, which we are the biggest advocates of saying spices are an ingredient. And if they are, then you should consider them without, as most you know, respect as you do for your produce and protein. And even your kitchen tools, which could be a whole other topic of conversation, I'm sure you didn't have fancy Japanese knives growing home, an immersion circulator. Or hand blender. Yeah, none of that. So there's, there's a lot that happened to the industry. And I think also one very nice thing is that the crossover between the professional and home cooking world is becoming smaller and smaller. So that, you know, you see I visit some friends home and some people's home, which it's not far from being a restaurant level kitchen with the equipment and the ingredients. So which is makes me very happy. So I think that's that's kind of what it is. And what I said earlier about ethnic cuisine, it's finally Okay. And you live in the DC area where there's so many fantastic cultures and ethnicities, and you can now go to African restaurants in Indian restaurants and, and they are as authentic as you would expect them to be, whether they're casual, or even, you have some amazing fine dining, Indian restaurants in, in Washington, DC. Chris Spear 7:39 Yeah, and I've talked to a lot of guests recently about this, you know, sourcing. And you know, that's a big part of what we'll talk about, because you've got a spice business, but, you know, the availability, whether it's more shops carrying a diverse range, or the internet, I mean, I love that I can just go online and order, whatever I need. And it can be in my house in a couple of days. I don't need to say, Oh, I don't have this with a couple days of planning, there's probably not much in the world you can't get. Yeah, Lior Lev Sercarz 8:05 no, I agree. Listen, when I started the business, we've got a lot of kind of, I wouldn't say negative, but like, some feedback of saying, oh, you know, it's, it's not fair. You're calling for these and these ingredients, and we can't get them in? You know, I thought that they were living in some sort of a remote area with no electricity and internet. Chris Spear 8:26 Let's kind of talk about how you got into the spice business. I know you were a chef. So can you talk a little bit about your culinary background, and then how that evolved into what you're doing today? Lior Lev Sercarz 8:36 Sure, I so I worked, you know, for over 2025 years in restaurants in Israel, then in France, and then here in New York City, and was always thinking about, you know, what's next? You know, am I going to open a restaurant am I going to work for somebody and I think at some point, I kind of decided to take the path of taking some time off from the traditional restaurant cooking in our did some corporate cooking, which gave me a little bit more time to think of what's next and, you know, out of, you know, pure boredom because, you know, my day got cut in half because, you know, I was home by three or four in the afternoon, which is a normal day's work for most people. I started playing around with baking cookies and selling them and then got a request from a chef friend who was interested in spices and so I just bought a little coffee grinder and a couple of mixing bowls. And that's pretty much how I loved what started in word of mouth from one friend to the next and at some point decided to make it a legit real business and open the store in 2010. And then three years ago, opening our production facility down the street And there was never a real game plan. I mean, I did write a business plan, but nothing ever happened. It was supposed to be a coffee shop with a little bit of cookies and baked goods. Maybe it's good, it never Chris Spear 10:12 happened. It's very different than what you're doing now. Yeah, it Lior Lev Sercarz 10:15 is very different. But I think, you know, I had an idea, I would say this, I made sure that, you know, I was financially sort of stable, I had a second job. And as I was trying to figure out, which I often talk to, with a lot of people who want to start their business and unless they have tremendous amount of cash, is to make sure that what you're doing is the right thing. And always having that stability, until you reach the point where you're kind of making the decision that it's safe enough to cross over. That's how I got into it. The reason was really, it still connected to the food industry. I'm working with professional chefs and other culinary industry people. But what I did gain, which I didn't have for years is the day to day contact with the home cooks. It's the contact with the suppliers, the manufacturers, and really disability to seeing start to finish the whole process is having an idea of a product, going to the source, getting the product, writing a recipe process being involved in in design, and the branding and the packaging, and then sales in discovered, which I didn't know for years that I really had this passion for this 360 overall approach to some parts of the business that I enjoy less. But I still do that. That's super fascinating, too. We Chris Spear 11:42 all have those parts of business that we don't love doing, right? We'll talk about the sourcing, because with spices in particular. I mean, I think that's I don't wanna say it's everything. But I mean, there's such a wide variety of quality, right and price, like you can go to stores and buy different spices, let's just say like a paprika from five different, you know, producers, purveyors stores, and they're going to be a varying quality. So how did you ensure that the quality that you wanted was available? And, you know, just kind of making sure that you're putting the best stuff out there? Lior Lev Sercarz 12:16 Yeah, so I started with, you know, I said, Okay, I need spices, you know, paprika, pepper, or whatever. Where does one go? So you obviously find some, you know, websites where like, Oh, you got to buy a container or a pallet, and they wouldn't even talk to you. So I started. And at the same time, going to your local supermarket buying two ounces at a time didn't make sense. So a lot of research online, a couple of stores here in the CD that offered like half pound bags, or one pound bags, that for me with large amounts of the time. And the more I bought, the more I educated myself in terms of what's better quality, what's better packaging, obviously, better pricing. And as the business grew, I started slowly to be able to reach out to these middle skilled suppliers and like, Okay, I'm ready to buy a 50 pound bag of the product, because they knew I was going to go through it, keeping in mind that I worked out of my apartment for three years. So there's also that much I was doing all of my deliveries by hand or taking the subway or bike or something. So with time, I was able to identify a better supply system, growers, importers, it's hard to get to the farm or farmers label in many cases, just because it's impossible, especially overseas. But primarily the the network of importers or distributors that really care about what it is that they're selling and in developing relationship in finding that one or two people within the company who like food, and can give me some insight trading about the batch of human that just arrived. And so that's very exciting. And it's still an ongoing, it's we're not the point. I mean, people come and go quality come and go. So it's an ongoing search for these suppliers. Your Chris Spear 14:18 product line evolved over the years, like how many things were you starting with? And where are you at now? Lior Lev Sercarz 14:25 So I started with about, you know, six or seven blends that were made for my first customer, that's what they wanted, and then adding slowly, I had lots of time and many ideas. So I was just developing, I don't know a blend a month or sometimes a little bit more. For the longest time for about I'd say, six, seven or more years. I wasn't even selling single spices. You know, I kind of I was a bit dumb. You know, I was like, Oh, we I didn't think people would be interested in buying my single space because there's other people, it took me a very long time, maybe too long, I mean, looking back, I should have from the beginning. And then at some point, once I got more comfortable, I started doing these collaborations. So with our shift space ships, whatever culinary people starting to develop blends with them or for them or both. And expanding the line, we are today, probably over a little bit over 100 blends that are available for everyone meaning food service and home consumers. In another probably 200 or so blends that are made just for particular food service clients, when they ordered them, so literally no inventory, we just place an order we make it, we ship it. And then on the single spice side, probably around the 8090 single spices that we offer, again, both food service and home consumers Chris Spear 16:03 from just six or seven blends. Lior Lev Sercarz 16:06 It is I mean, it took it took some time, we are now pretty stable, I mean, we will we will introduce a product here and there. We're now also in the middle of revisiting this catalog and seeing what still makes sense. I like everything but you know, financially storage production, we got to be smart about what it is that we're doing. Chris Spear 16:29 And you're definitely seeing the breakdown between spices and a certain cuisine, to say like, you're seeing people use Ethiopian spices or African spices or Middle Eastern in foods that aren't necessarily authentic to that region. You know, I think it's really interesting that you don't have to be making, you know, traditional Burberry chicken to be using the Burberry spice and one of your dishes, and just kind of like a universal approach to spice using and not just kind of keeping it in the same pocket as whatever that cuisine is. Lior Lev Sercarz 17:02 Yeah, I think that the more we get granular about whatever cuisine, origin, all of discover, all of a sudden, you discover that there are so many other influences, you know, so I always give this simple example of tacos on Pastore, which, you know, most people have had one. With the first time I've seen it wasn't when I moved here 21 years ago, and I was like, oh, shawarma, and I was like, No, that's not cosell. pastores. Like, no, no, that's show Arma. And when you start, you know, doing a little bit of research, you don't have to go that far, you discover that there's some Ottoman influences over Mexican cuisine with whatever happened in history. Somebody probably had an extra pineapple and threw some piece on it on the top. And then how it came in, when he started looking at tacos. And you find out that this did something called tacos, Allah Rubus, which means Arabic tacos. And I think that's the beauty of it. You can say yes, I'm cooking traditional Mexican cuisine. But I'm also want to be true, or pay tribute to where it started. So can I include elements that are Turkish, ottoman, Middle Eastern without, you know, making it a fusion, something that's, you know, and I think chefs and others are becoming smarter, and you know, trying to dig deep and tell a story that's compelling to their audience, trying to educate them in in a fun way, not, you know, being over complicated, and have the freedom of bringing elements from other places that just make sense to them. Chris Spear 18:42 And it's always exciting when you find a new space, I know, you know, I'll have a cookbook, and it'll call for something. So I'll buy a spice and then you've got this containers, like, well, let's just start putting in a bunch of different things and seeing how it goes. Lior Lev Sercarz 18:53 Yeah, for sure. So I think, you know, spices the beauty of it, in our world, at least here is that they don't just belong to a certain country or ethnicity there for everyone to be used. And I think that, you know, you can own a Japanese knife and make me the least and food. Nobody's gonna hold you accountable. Like, oh my god, yeah. How come you're using you're not Japanese restaurant. i It's a bit exaggerating. But to some extent, it's not exaggerating. I think that using human from India, in Eastern European recipe, or in a South American recipe or whatever, doesn't take away from the, you know, authentic aspect of the cuisine that you're making, you know, you know, Japanese use certain elements. Most of them are from Japan, not all of them. And to me, it's one of the more kind of true to reality cuisine that they still out there words if done, right, it's very authentic. But even then you start to seeing, you know, if you're doing Japanese cuisine in the United States, sure, you can fly fish from the market, you can or whatever. But I think those who do it right, try to integrate a little bit of the vibe of the country that they're living in, without sacrificing the authentic story. Chris Spear 20:26 Oh, definitely. You know, so many of our listeners are chefs, and I'm sure they have a good handle on how to use spice. But for the home cooks out there, what advice do you have for them on expanding their spice knowledge and maybe incorporating some new blends into their cooking, I cook for people at home as a personal chef. And so often, you know, people talk about how limited their spice knowledge is, and that they don't have a spice pantry, I think people are overwhelmed. So where's a good place to start? I mean, I always tell people just go to the store. And if you can buy in bulk, like buy a couple teaspoons, tablespoons and see if you like it. But do you have any great advice? Lior Lev Sercarz 21:03 I think it's first of all, evaluating what you already have at home, and how good is the quality of that product? When's the last time you use this? When is it from? And so without running, without running to the store and buying you item is, first of all, what do you have at home, and then doing some cleaning in you know, changing over there. Then after that, I think that it's interesting to try to try something new, whether it's a single space, whether it's violin, whether you want to expand, experiment with making your own blends, and still cooking, what it is that you like to cook, I definitely wouldn't recommend changing, you know, or try and do new recipes. Unless you're trying something from a different cuisine or country that you're unfamiliar and, and spices are part of it. But I think the easiest way is really to cook, whatever you like, whatever you're good at, etc. and trying different seasonings, whether it's a single spice spice blend, and for the most part, if not always, it's just amazing to see how that regular dish that you've been making forever, all of a sudden looks and tastes and smells so different. Just by changing the seasoning profile of Chris Spear 22:27 roast chicken, a simple piece of fish a steak or something, you know, instead of making something new, just try a different spice blend on roasted chicken, right? Because you know what chickens like? And you know, if you'd like roast chicken? Yeah, for sure. At what what about storage, I'm concerned, like, is plastic an issue, you know, I put them in little plastic containers, but is that like not a good way to store them if you're buying in bulk. Lior Lev Sercarz 22:51 Um, you know, glass is fantastic. If I had to pick the ultimate, you know, vessel, it will be a glass jar. The challenge with glasses, eight, if it breaks, it's a mess. Also, it is transparent. So you don't gain anything when it comes to light exposure. Again, people freak out about lights exposure, if, unless you're putting your jars on the edge of a window that's, you know, 12 hours a day direct sunlight, it's fine to leave them in your kitchen environment. So that's glass, plastic, we use plastic, I use plastic at home, I use plastic at work, we sell our product in plastic, it's recyclable. So for those who freak out about, you know, the recycling aspect, to my little knowledge, and hopefully I'm not wrong, the amount of energy and effort to recycle glass and plastic are pretty much the same, if not the same. So I would love to use just glass, it's a matter of you know, cost and breakage and weight. I'm not saying that down the road, we will not go there, it's possible that we will. So we use plastic. You know, I think that both plastic and glass are great because you just see what you have in your jar versus some opaque material where you open the jar and and it's Oh, it's empty, you know, metal, which is totally fine hood, to some extent interact with certain acidic spaces. And also, as I said, you just don't know what you have left and peel. You try to do something and it's empty. Chris Spear 24:37 I was thinking my grandmother's like old McCormick spice tins, right, like and she probably still has some from like 1970 in the back of her pantry with like marjoram or something that she you know, hasn't been used in 40 years. Lior Lev Sercarz 24:48 Yeah, yeah. So I think as an aside from whatever vessel it is that you have one thing that I definitely recommend is keeping track of when the space is From So, if you buy it from a company that has like a best use before, that's great. If you don't just simply write somewhere on the label with a pen or some sort of a Sharpie, kind of, you know, I'd say the kind of a good keep is just if you're not sure. So just add one year to the date of purchase, that when you brought this thing into your home, again, don't throw it away on the anniversary date. But just, you know, try to use it. And if you really still have a lot, either give it away, make a blend out of the end, just don't buy it again, because apparently, you're just not using it. And it's okay, if I am not here to force it. Like you have to use margarine if marjoram isn't your thing, don't buy it. Chris Spear 25:49 And I always tell people, you know, I like to buy bulk spices in the stores locally, because I'm just buying a couple tablespoons, maybe a quarter of a cup at the time. And also seems to be much less expensive. You know, when you look at the, let's say, a five ounce jar of whatever the grocery store, if you were to buy the same thing and just go to these, like we have a great organic store around us. All organic spices, you know, take out a couple of tablespoons, it's much less expensive. I'm using it a lot faster. So it doesn't ever expire in my house. And again, if it's something I've never had, and I don't really like I'm not out like this whole container of it. Yeah. So let's, let's talk about cookbooks. Because you have authored three, and you have your fourth book coming out now. Which is amazing. Like, why tackled cookbooks? Because that seems like it's totally out of the realm. I mean, I'm sure you have, obviously had to have recipes, because you were doing blends. But what made you want to start getting into the cookbooks? Lior Lev Sercarz 26:48 Yeah, the first one was really kind of a way to showcase the the home cooks and even professionals, just purely what to do with our blends. We've had 41 blends at the time. So the book covers 41. Obviously, we're over 100 today. And I just wanted to give people a tool and tell them the story of why created this blend in a couple of ideas of what they could do with it. And then instead of me writing the recipes, and by the way, in the first book, there's not even one. Yeah, there's not one recipe of mine, I reached out to 41 of our partners, friends, and some weird restaurants, some without some in between. Some of them no longer have their restaurant, and ask them to each contribute a recipe, what I did is kind of re reworked them a little bit in quantities that are suitable for the home cook. We did the photography and the styling and I self publish it because I reached out to a friend who was an editor. And she kindly explained to me that this book doesn't make sense for a publisher because it promotes our product, which which makes sense. And so my wife and I, and we brought on a great guy who now has his own publishing company. And with our fantastic photographer, we did it all in less than a year. I spent good money on it, I published it. We are on our third edition of it, which is great. And funny enough as I was halfway through this book, an editor who is now the big boss of a lot of other editors who became a friend owed so read an article about and came over and said, I'd like to see if one day we'll do a book. I said, Well, you're six months too late for this one. But you know if I ever do a second one and he was like, Yeah, please do call me and about a year and a half or two later. I had some drinks with him and you know over a couple of glasses of wine and a napkin and a pen. I kind of briefly told him what my idea was, which became book number two. I have a good friend Her name is Dorie Greenspan, who I don't know how many books story did God bless. She told me after book one one day, she's like, watch out because this can become a disease. And I said and I'm just gonna do one, don't worry. It's so hard and expensive that and then after I read the book to as like, oh, okay, I see her point. And then we did Book Two great to this date, probably the best seller out of all the three. I'm hoping that book four will do even better. And then actually the publisher which I have a great relationship, clouds and Potter. They came back to me and pitch to me the idea of doing book number three, which became mastering space and I think As I was working on pestering space, that's how I do it to myself as like, I already have this kind of idea for the next book. But I took some time off I think about a year or so. And I, my editor changed. And then I reached out and we kind of together sort of put together this concept of what is book number four that's coming out in June, called a Middle Eastern poetry. Talking about your question earlier about supply and in suppliers. This is what really intrigued me for this book concept is, you know, there's been a lot of books about Middle Eastern cuisine, Israeli food, whatnot, which are all amazing and fabulous. I wanted to go wanted to go kind of behind the scene of the ingredients that make this cuisine so unique, then this notion of pantry, which, hopefully we'll get some better PR because, you know, even if you have a small apartment somewhere, I think that pantry items are so to me, so crucial to making good food is always having some oils and vinegars and condiments and dried lagoons, and all of these things that we kind of take for granted but they're not in hoping that and paying tribute again to this amazing region where I'm from from the Middle East, with its complexity, but beautiful flavors and so that's the upcoming book and I always say this is it but see how far that got me so I don't know that there will be book five or more but to be to be seen. Chris Spear 31:41 Well, I I've gotten an advance on the book and it looks great. You know, our listeners are probably going to have heard this a number of times because I've been talking to a few cookbook authors lately and there seems to be this theme of like stocking your pantry especially I think because so many people if we're gonna talk about like home cooks they work you know they want to have a delicious dinner it's tough to get it on the table and I think if you stock your pantry really well then you can pull together a delicious dinner and not a lot of time and just have you know if you have a doesn't have the right ingredients you can have a delicious dinner Lior Lev Sercarz 32:16 Yeah, for sure. I think that again like I see in our little world of spices the condiments and pantry items are always already already had an are still having a moment where I'm sure you you know growing up there was some vegetable oil which wasn't necessarily identify what that sugar it's from extra virgin olive oil was unheard of. I can tell you that even in Israel that everyone like yeah, sure olive oil. Growing up olive oil was part of Palestinian or Druze a lot of other in Israel but it wasn't accepted by the large Israeli community. Chickpea tahini which we now you find in I wouldn't say 711 Although maybe there is the need 711 Wouldn't be surprised or halvah until that long ago weren't considered ingredients. And so I think it's, it's important and again, you don't have to have you know, seven different oils and six different vinegars. It's okay, if you have one of each, but don't you want to try it and have the one that you like the most, it's not about being the best or the worst? It's what you like, that's what you know, something I tell people always about spices and everything else. It doesn't matter what I like, you know, you are you and that's it. I'm here to show you and educate you. But at the end of the day, it's about you making that decision. And if you don't like pepper, why do you have a pepper mill in your kitchen? You know, unless you want to put in your living room as the core object. Chris Spear 33:52 Well, I think growing up we just had a Italian salad dressing in the fridge right? And it was like you marinated a steak in that or you marinated mushrooms in it, but I don't think I had olive oil. I believe I was in sixth grade like I had to take a cooking class in middle school. So I would have been like 11 years old and distinctly remember that being the first time I ever had olive oil Lior Lev Sercarz 34:12 and I'm sure you still you know meet people were in their homes or even professional chefs and I wouldn't say unfortunately it is what it is and if you're happy person then who am I to judge you. I'm just here to offer advice and help were saying you know, have you ever considered the salt that you using? Did you ever try different oils? How about you know your your cardamom which should have been long gone from your kitchen? The unfortunate reality is that we there is no very little education when it comes to spices. But the level is getting better every year. Chris Spear 34:53 Well, what are some of the recipes in this book? Like what can people expect from the new cookbook when you say pay entery recipes and stocking your pantry. Can you give us a little behind the scenes look at like what will be in the book? Lior Lev Sercarz 35:07 Yeah, absolutely. So you know, anywhere from more familiar recipes using olive oil as an ingredient so for consuming vegetables or olive oil based deserts to more unique even unique to me they came as we were writing the book there's a Turkish preparation called tell Hannah, I apologize for the the accents and the pronunciation. It's a fermented yogurt and vegetable base that then dehydrated into big like chunks that then you can powder and you end up with this beautiful yogurt and vegetable powder that you can use to make soups. So imagine a bouillon cube just made with yogurt and fresh vegetable that has a great Tang. So there's a recipe on how to make it you can it's a product that's not easily available but you can buy it in some ethnic store so there's those two extremes and anything in between us you know how to make hummus you know using you know, chickpeas how to make some you know, you know traditional Middle Eastern ravioli is with some lamb in them braising fish with tahini. So there's parts of the recipes, how to make that pantry ingredient, and then how to use it. So laminate bowls, is if you wanted to make your own, we just store bought yogurt you can or if you already have lovely that you can source somewhere, what can you do with it. So we wanted to feature both on you know, recipes on how to make certain pantry items. I obviously don't don't expect people to press their own olive oil home, we're not at that level I not. There are some actually some super fun machines out there. Now that on our homeschool level. But good luck finding olives unless you have your own tree. But if you were to make your own cured olives, so that's a good example. You can very easily now during the season that stretches pretty long, because in some parts of California, it starts a bit earlier, it's buying green olives, and you can now see them in more and more green markets during the season. And make your own crack oil, olives, which is fun, you know, and at least understanding the process. So a mix between making your own, but also using store bought entry ingredients and how you can you know use them in with more familiar recipes, such as braised chicken or roast leg of lamb with some Middle Eastern influence, but then some more in depth recipes such as meat that's cooked with yogurt stone, and then served over a loaf of bread and some rice. So there's some more elaborated recipes, but some more simple everyday salads and roasts and braces, Chris Spear 38:09 I found it to be very educational. I mean, I think I have a pretty good handle on a lot of these dishes and recipes. But there was so much I learned like I've never heard of it was in the molasses section. There's like a molasses made from like a grape juice and I've never heard of that before. And I thought you know, maybe I'll make this, you know, Project fun project for a weekend, Lior Lev Sercarz 38:29 even even visit a zoo which you know, it's one of the ingredients that I've never understood why it never picked up you know, and didn't get more recognition, which even in France is used in certain parts of the country, but he's using a lot of Persian Cuisine basically, you know, smashed crushed, you know, unripe green grapes that makes this beautiful slightly acidic recipe or like you mentioned the grape molasses so fresh grapes that can be juiced and you know a lot of us at home now have juicers because we make our juice and then making a reduction out of it and instead of using some artificially or sugar intense molasses super easy to make great shelflife delicious in salad dressings and roast and glaze and bless it so in like you mentioned we wanted to tell the story of some of these people and the methods and how hard it is to get honey, how hard it is to harvest sesame or to make tahini. My dad is featured in the book, you know making his olive oil and everything that goes into it. So also having this sense of appreciation of these products and not like up it's just you know, it's just olive oil. What's the big deal you take, you know, olives and you smash them and you get oil. Chris Spear 39:55 And I one of the things that struck me maybe this is Common knowledge everyone, I always thought Zaatar was a spice blend, I didn't realize that it was an actual herb and that was something I learned in your book. Lior Lev Sercarz 40:06 Yeah, so again, some, you know, fun educational aspect, you know, Zatara is now you know, kind of, I wouldn't say a household name but definitely more similar than what it was 1015 years ago Chris Spear 40:20 and I had a Trader Joe's so you know, get if it's Lior Lev Sercarz 40:23 there, then it's everywhere. I mean, I'm sure Costco has a half pound of Zatara somewhere. And so yeah, there's an herb that's you know, part of the marjoram oregano family and the real blend should be made with this herb you know, after that the kind of commonly agreed upon ingredients are sesame, sumac, a little bit of salt. And from that point on, everybody has their own interpretation using savory adding thyme leaves, I've even seen rosemary, some people leave it very coarse. Some people grinded very fine. Some people like it more acidic, different styles, if you will, which is nice. There's their Jordanian versus the Egyptian versus the Syrian versus the Palestinian. But yeah, just wanted to tell the story of the herb that first there was an herb, then there was a blend. Chris Spear 41:17 Well, I love when I learned something new, even if it's one thing, but I've I'm sure I'm gonna learn so much from this book. And you also incorporated a lot of the spice blends in there, which I think is nice. So for those who don't have your original books, and I think they should, you know, they're not starting from scratch, there are some spice blend recipes in this one as well. Lior Lev Sercarz 41:35 Yeah, we you know, the kind of tricky part is to how do we do a book book number four. And obviously not forget the spice portion, because, you know, we are who we are, and I am who I am. But on the other hand, not making it into another spice book. But we wanted to pick kind of those few very traditional blends in spices of the region. And you know, make sure that people not only had recipes with those blends, but also had the recipes on how to make the blends if they choose to do so. And Chris Spear 42:12 for anyone who's looking to start a culinary business, because a lot of entrepreneurs listen to the show. Do you have any advice for you know, someone who's an aspiring culinary entrepreneur who maybe he wants to not necessarily start a spice blend, but as maybe a cook or chef somewhere? What would you tell them? Lior Lev Sercarz 42:32 The short, slightly non funny answer is get an accounting software, because it's a business, get some duct tape, because something's going to break in, just put a website out there or get a social media handle. But that's not the, I'd say the real thing is to make sure that you have enough experience, not just in that area, but you know, understanding front of the back of the house, meaning you know, what it takes to make a product, what it takes to buy, sell price things, it's a lot of things that I wish I had known. I mean, I don't regret one bit of my journey. But I wish I started with a more professional approach from day one of, you know, reconciling my books and, you know, doing cost control and setting up processes and things that we're still even 16 years later working on, you know, with the team here to adjust. It is a business and as such, it shouldn't be taken with as much. You know, I think that before you go and play professional sport, you do some training, I think that's the the easiest equivalent. So try to work in in as many areas as possible. Get experience, talk to professionals, from your industry and outside of it. Surround yourself with the best possible him or consultant people who are better than you whether they are direct team members, whether they're an attorney, an accountant, a financial advisor, when it's impossible to be good at everything, you could have a great knowledge in a lot of things you do need to know what documents you're signing on. But at the end of the day, really surround yourself with a great and then I think at the end of the day, it's about being excited about doing this thing. And I think that if the excitement, if you're just in it for I wouldn't say just the money because there's nothing wrong with making money. We all want to you know, be successful, but that portion of excitement about whatever it is that you're doing, and in even if you're not making it and I'm saying it with the utmost respect, it's okay if you come up and I wish I could figure out a way where I don't need to manufacture a thing and somebody else does it. I salute you for that and there's you You know, you don't need to make everything or anything, if you are able to identify a manufacturer that is good and consistent, and you focus on what you're good at, which is branding, and sales and marketing, then it's an amazing concept. You know, and manufacturing is very difficult to challenging. I happen to like it. So I don't, you know, I love the fact that we do it. But I think that could save a lot of people who are opening businesses is this agony, I need a space and I need machinery, I invite you to first to see if somebody else can make it for you. There's a risk factor, you're relying on somebody else and not you. But you got to kind of weigh the pros and cons to what it is. Chris Spear 45:44 Well, it's virtually impossible to do every single thing yourself. And you had said something earlier about the things that you'd like to do in business. And that's what I find is, you know, we all have different things that we enjoy in the business. I don't know anyone who likes the accounting piece, and almost everyone says, find someone to take care of the accounting piece if you don't want to do that. But yeah, play to your strengths. If that's something you like, go deep, if there's something that you don't like, see if you can, you know, shuffle that off to someone else. Lior Lev Sercarz 46:09 Yeah, I think you still need to have a good and it is your money at the end of the day. So having a great CPA or accountant, a CFO. They're here to help and support. But, you know, I at least want to know where my money goes and how much I have. Chris Spear 46:25 And taking a little shift, I wanted to talk to you about the Galilee Culinary Institute. Can you talk about that for a couple of minutes? Because I know that you're involved with that. And that seems like a really cool thing. It is Lior Lev Sercarz 46:35 it's probably one of the biggest thing. I mean, I think everything I do is this consumes a lot of my time for the five Mercia so I, as I mentioned earlier announced to my parents that I wanted to be a cook and weren't excited. But they let me try to do it. I mean, not that I needed their permission, I just wanted more of their blessing. And then three years into cooking in Israel, I decided that this is an opportunity. And there was unfortunately not a whole lot happening in Israel in terms of Culinary Education. So I packed my bags and left for friends. And I enrolled into a very prestigious Culinary Institute and ended up staying five years working there. But pretty much since that day in 97, more or less, it always kind of was in the back of my mind is you know Can Can we do something in Israel? Can we offer people who cannot afford or cannot just because of a family or relationship leave? They can? Maybe they just don't want to leave the country. So why shouldn't they be getting professional culinary education and for a good 20 something years I kept on knocking on doors, private sectors not for profit friends. And the response was pretty much always the same sounds like a great idea, it's probably never going to work. But when you do do it, we'd love to come and see you in which means nothing. And five years or so ago, I was introduced to by a friend to an amazing person by name of Russell Robinson, who is the CEO of Jewish National Fund, which is an amazing organization that is based on 1000s of very generous and super humans around the country. And that, you know, want to support and one establish businesses in Israel so that the local communities have a better chance in education and housing and work opportunities. And I was going there with very little expectation because I've been turned, you know, around by so many. And in a matter of minutes, we shook hands with Russell and with the JNF team members and decided to build the Galilee Culinary Institute. We didn't have a name back then but now called the Galilee Culinary Institute, myself for my own selfish reasons to you know, bring high end or higher culinary education to Israel, rethinking education, Jewish National Fund for their own reasons, which part of them is to bring a couple of 100,000 people to the Galilee and create job opportunities and housing and works in education and medical. And they're doing all of that as we're speaking. We partnered we I'm excited to say we have an opening date for May of 2024. It's an International Institute that welcomes students from all ages and all over the world. Obviously, a higher education so if you're 678 or nine years old, probably not relevant for you. But after high school, let's put it that way. 12 months program in English in Israel, cooking baking beer brewing chocolate making cheese food sales technology, food styling writing. There's a four acre farm composting. So I, you name it, maybe aside from fly fishing, which we might end up adding to the curriculum. We got it, not for the sake of making it a Disney World of sorts of the culinary world, but more about saying, Listen, you and I have both seen many people who are excited about food and try to make it their profession, and get burned out, you know, a couple of years if not even sooner. It's a hard industry. It's demanding, you gotta love it. We think that there are other alternatives within the culinary world, you can be a food scientist in a lab. For large scale or small scale manufacturer, you can be a food writer, you can be a food stylist, or you can be a knife maker. And we are all part of the same family. So saying, I like to make chicken, I'm going to be a chef, it's might not be the case for you or for anybody else. So we want to expose our students to a diverse range of professions. Now, you're not going to graduate as a beer Brewer or chocolate maker, we want 12 months later to set you to the next level of say, Okay, now I know I'm going to work for chocolate maker, and then potentially open my business. And if you do, not only we want to give you basic tools of chocolate, but we also want to know what a p&l is? Or how do you deal when your AC breaks down. And these are things that are going to happen every day. So you're bound to be the best at, you know, chopping tomatoes. If your POS is done, well guess what? You're not selling anything today. So we want to give the students the tools. We want to let them know how to express themselves, you know, you know, everybody owns a mini PR company these days, it's your cell phone. So can you run your own social media marketing sales PR company? With yourself? Do you know how to write a menu, do you know how to take a good picture, and so on and so forth. So I can go on for hours. It's one of the most exciting things. Aside from the fact that it's in the Galilee. It's about 10 minutes from the village where I was born, my parents Farms is about eight minutes from there. I am very biased, I think it's one of the previous regions in the world. You have caviar 10 minutes away, you have about 200, wineries, cheesemaking, and about 60 or 70 different ethnicities all within 30 to 40 mile range from our institute, Chris Spear 52:46 what sounds like an amazing course and they're so lucky to not have to feel like if they want to be in the culinary world have to travel halfway around the world to go to another culinary institute somewhere that they're going to have one there, you know, if if they're of the region, I've never been anywhere over there. And it's on my list of places that I need to visit, preferably sooner than later. Lior Lev Sercarz 53:08 Yeah, and I mean, aside from obviously, the the flagship program, they're going to be, you know, shorter, one day, one hour, one week programs, both recreational for amateurs, but also, for professionals. There's a restaurant on site, an auditorium, a wine bar, a couple of stores, and so differently, opportunities for tourists and visitors. domestic and international to come and spend as long or as little as they wish, even if it's just to buy some, you know, baked goods that the students have made. Or if you want to stay a week and go foraging and fishing, we could probably accommodate that, too. Chris Spear 53:50 I look forward to following the journey. I was checking out the website and some of the recipes on there. And I think it's a you know, people should check that out. Even if they don't think they're gonna head on over there, too. You never know one of the courses you never know. Do you have anything you want to leave our listeners with? Before we get out of here today? Lior Lev Sercarz 54:08 Well, first I want to I really want to thank you for you know, inviting me and sharing the story of spices and food and anything in between. I'm obviously beyond excited about this subject. And I hope that others will be whether you're professional cook with or without a restaurant. I run a very small restaurant. I have three guests every day, and they're that you're Chris Spear 54:33 off the show. Oh, wait your kids. Yeah, sure. Lior Lev Sercarz 54:35 Yeah, I have two kids and a wife. And there's some days where it's not far from a restaurant that service because one child wants this and the other ones, the ones that and I think that people are like, Oh, you're a chef. So it's easy. I was like I you know, I think the big difference between chefs and home cooks it's organization. If you're prepared and planned and I know some Meeting home cooks that just figured out that if they plan ahead, their pantries are well stocked, they have a great spice rack, they're free, just cooking is fun. And it should be fun. And so. And I think that, you know, people should consider spices seriously, this same way that hopefully they do with food, and just being you know, a bit more aware of what it is that you're consuming. It doesn't matter if it's packed, good prepared. I'm okay with everything, as long as you are aware of what you're feeding yourself. I'm okay with that. Chris Spear 55:37 And I think really quickly to touch on because you mentioned kids, I don't know if some people have a reluctance to expose their kids to it, my son, my son's favorite thing is to put random spices on random foods. And he'll just say, you know, like, Star nice, what is this? And he'll just take it out of the pantry, my son's 10. And he'll say, Can I crush this and put it on my taco? Sure, you know, and I really encourage that kind of exploration of food and spices, we have a lazy susan on our table. And it's mostly just cluttered with five or six different spices, usually, whatever the kids are pulled out over the past couple days. And it might be a smoked paprika, it might be some Chinese Five spice, a little thing a tahini, you know, and they're just like shaking things on their food as they please. And I love that. And I wish more people would do that. Lior Lev Sercarz 56:24 And you're you're better than I am. Because my kids are, you know, spices are sadly not part of what they're even will try. It's still a mystery to me. I mean, we both, you know, had the chance to feed lots of people in our life, and some more demanding, and others, my kids are still the biggest mystery to me. But I stopped fighting it, I just really just asked them what it is that they want to eat. Try to be responsible and you know, limit the amount of snacks and sugar based items that they want. And let them make the decision. I think that you know, I'm not going to fight them over it. I try to expose them. And they're pretty good healthy eater. Would I like them to eat other things, of course, but I think it will come with time. Chris Spear 57:13 Oh, it definitely comes with time I have twins. They're 10 years old. And this was not overnight. But they really love spices for whatever reason. And I'm glad for that. And, and like I said, I just sometimes the combos sound kind of not good for me. I'm like, I don't think you want to put that on there. But you know, go nuts. If you want to put that on your pizza. Fine. And that's how you learn and you know, yeah, we'll see. Maybe they're gonna make me dinner tonight. I don't know. Lior Lev Sercarz 57:38 I mean, the student every night, I come home and it's like, maybe one day there'll be dinners like nope, not happening yet. But I'm not coming I love it's my really my real therapy cooking if it's after a very long day, or whatever day and the sense of cooking for others, which I hope I will never lose this. You know, it made really makes me happy to cook for others, whether it's two or 20 or 200 Chris Spear 58:06 meter. That's why most of us do this, right? Because it's a it's a tough industry, the food and beverage. So if you know if you really don't have that passion and love, you should probably find something that maybe you do love Lior Lev Sercarz 58:18 and probably pays better. 100% Chris Spear 58:23 Thanks so much for coming on the show today. It was great to talk to you. I always have time to talk about spices. Lior Lev Sercarz 58:28 Thank you for having me. And for all of our Chris Spear 58:31 listeners. This will be coming out soon around the book. I will link that in the show notes so you'll be able to find this book and all the other books. And as always, this has been Chris with the Chefs Without Restaurants podcast. Thanks so much for listening and have a great week. Go to chefs without restaurants.org To find our Facebook group, mailing list and Chef database. The community is free to join. You'll get gig opportunities, advice on building and growing your business and you'll never miss an episode of our podcast. Have a great week.