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The Evolution of a Dish:

Lior Lev Sercarz’s Journey in Sourcing and Blending Spices

Lior Lev Sercarz, the renowned chef and spice blender, is a pivotal figure in the culinary world, particularly when it comes to spices. Currently, he is the owner of La Boîte, a New York City-based spice shop that has gained international acclaim for its unique and high-quality blends. His journey from growing up in a kibbutz in Israel to becoming a leading spice expert is filled with passion, challenges, and a relentless pursuit of quality.

A Passion for Ingredients

Lior's fascination with ingredients began during his childhood in Israel. Growing up in a kibbutz, he was immersed in a culture where foraging and using seasonal ingredients were the norms. This early exposure to diverse flavors and the natural environment laid the foundation for his future endeavors in the culinary arts. His travels across Europe further fueled his curiosity and broadened his palate.

Challenges in Sourcing Spices

One of the significant challenges Lior has faced in his career is sourcing high-quality spices. The journey from farm to table is complex and fraught with obstacles. Establishing trustworthy relationships with purveyors, brokers, and importers is crucial. Lior emphasizes the importance of transparency and sustainability in these relationships, ensuring that farmers are paid fairly and that the supply chain remains robust and ethical.

The impact of global events such as the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change has also posed challenges. For instance, the pandemic caused delays in the transportation of spices, while climate change has affected crop yields in various regions. Political issues, like those affecting mustard seed production in Canada and Ukraine, further complicate sourcing.

“As a young cook, the idea of seasoning is not taught anywhere. This gesture is selecting the product. Often, I have these chats with our partners like, what is wrong with you? I mean, don't you care? You would spend lots of money on protein and produce and your wine cellar, but then fundamental stuff that you season your food with, for some reason people kind of compromise here.”

Why High-Quality Spices Lead to Better Profits

Investing in high-quality spices can significantly enhance the flavor of dishes and, ultimately, the profitability of restaurants. Lior explains that high-quality spices have a more intense and complex flavor profile, which means that less of the spice is needed to achieve the desired taste. 

This not only makes dishes more flavorful but also more cost-effective in the long run. Furthermore, the superior taste can lead to higher customer satisfaction and repeat business, driving profits.

"We hear it all the time from people, especially if we do blending services for them...we take their formula, we don't even touch it, we just use our spices...‘Oh my God, I now need to use 20, 30, 40% less because it's so pungent and strong.’”

Lior’s Blending Process

Lior's approach to creating spice blends is meticulous and artistic. He begins by evaluating the raw materials, often tasting and grinding them to ensure quality. When developing a new blend, especially for collaborations with other chefs, he takes into account their vision and the specific dishes they intend to create. This collaborative process involves testing the blends in various culinary applications, such as yogurt, bread, and cooked meats, to ensure they achieve the desired flavor profiles.

Lior also pays close attention to the balance of flavors in his blends, ensuring that each spice complements the others without overpowering them. This careful consideration and testing process is what makes his blends unique and highly sought after by chefs around the world.

How Spice Collaborations Start

Spice collaborations often begin with a conversation. Chefs reach out to Lior with an idea or a specific culinary challenge, and from there, a partnership is born. Lior listens carefully to the needs and preferences of his partners, understanding their vision and the flavors they wish to achieve. This dialogue forms the foundation of the collaboration, with both parties contributing their expertise to create something unique and innovative.

These collaborations are built on mutual respect and a shared passion for pushing the boundaries of flavor. By combining their skills and knowledge, Lior and his collaborators are able to create spice blends that enhance culinary creations in new and exciting ways.

“I eat spices all day long. If I'm working with another chef or another professional, I want to hear their thoughts. I mean, where do they want to go with it? What's the flavor? And scent profile? Is there a specific dish that they're actually looking to use this for? And it's just great to work with them. You know, they're really excited to see the result and. I will make a blend.”

Working with Olivier Roellinger

One of the most significant collaborations in Lior’s career was with Olivier Roellinger, a renowned French chef known for his innovative use of spices. Working with Roellinger was a transformative experience for Lior. He learned the importance of precision and creativity in the kitchen, as well as the art of storytelling through spices.

Roellinger’s influence helped Lior refine his approach to blending spices, combining technical expertise with a deep appreciation for the cultural and historical significance of each ingredient.

I thought I knew something about food and something about spices and I was proven wrong in the very best possible way. I encountered spices that I never even heard of. I became fascinated with the notion of spices and Olivier being the great mentor that he's, for me and for others, was very smart in terms of having me do my own journey and research about taste and flavor and not just dictating what it tastes like.”

Why Is It Called La Boîte?

La Boîte, which translates to “The Box” in French, reflects Lior’s approach to spice blending and presentation. The name symbolizes the treasure trove of flavors and aromas contained within each carefully crafted spice blend. It also represents the idea of spices as gifts, packaged beautifully and thoughtfully, ready to be explored and enjoyed.

The name encapsulates the essence of what La Boîte stands for: a place where the artistry of spice blending is celebrated and shared with the world.

The Most Common Spice Blends

Lior has created a variety of spice blends that have become staples in many kitchens. Some of the most common blends include:

  • Ras el Hanout: A traditional North African blend that typically includes cardamom, cumin, clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, and turmeric.
  • Vadouvan: A French interpretation of an Indian masala, combining curry leaves, mustard seeds, fenugreek, and other spices.
  • Shabazi: A Yemeni blend with a base of coriander, cumin, and turmeric, often used in Middle Eastern cuisine.
  • Herbes de Provence: A classic blend of dried herbs from the Provence region of France, including rosemary, thyme, oregano, and lavender.

These blends reflect Lior's deep understanding of global cuisines and his ability to adapt traditional spice combinations to suit contemporary tastes.

The Future of the Spice Market in America

As the spice market continues to evolve, Lior remains optimistic about its future in America. He believes that there is a growing appreciation for high-quality, ethically sourced spices among both chefs and consumers. This trend is likely to continue as more people become aware of the benefits of using superior spices in their cooking.

Lior also sees potential for innovation in the spice market. New blends and flavor combinations are constantly being developed, and there is a growing interest in exploring the culinary traditions of different cultures. This openness to experimentation and cultural exchange bodes well for the future of the spice market in America.


“As long as you are using spices, I'm happy. The consumer is becoming smarter and more knowledgeable. People travel, people eat in ethnic restaurants. It does matter, and people are starting to make the change and the difference. The craft spice industry is becoming bigger. You see better spice aisles in large supermarkets. You see more interesting ingredients. So I think we're heading in a very good direction.”

His work with the Galilee Culinary Institute in Israel exemplifies his commitment to education and the advancement of culinary arts. This institute aims to prepare students for diverse careers in the food industry, emphasizing the importance of quality ingredients and sustainable practices.

Conclusion

Lior Lev Sercarz’s journey is a testament to the impact that passion, expertise, and dedication can have on an industry. His work not only elevates the culinary experiences of chefs and food enthusiasts around the world but also highlights the intricate and often challenging processes involved in bringing exceptional spices to our tables.

Through his innovative blends, collaborative spirit, and commitment to quality, Lior continues to shape the future of the spice market, inspiring a new generation of culinary professionals to appreciate and harness the power of spices.

Listen to the full episode of The meez Podcast featuring guest Lior Lev Sercarz

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