When star chefs like Eric Ripert and bartenders like Jim Meehan need a custom spice blend, they turn to Lior Lev Sercarz. Born in Israel, Sercarz trained as a chef in France and cooked for nearly 20 years before starting his New York–based spice business La Boîte à Epice in 2006. With regular trips around the globe to source close to 120 raw materials, he sells 41 blends of his own plus another 20-odd custom creations for restaurants around the world. With evocative names like Breeze and Iris, his blends innovate, like Breeze’s combination of tea, anise and lemon. Ask him what spices go with, say, chicken, and in less than a minute he can offer up a dozen creative ideas, each more delicious than the last. Now at work on a cookbook, he will also release a line of spiced chocolate bars this fall. Here, Sercarz explains what distinguishes beautiful spices from ordinary ones, and what spices go best with chicken, salmon and green leafy vegetables.
How did you first fall in love with spices?
The food of Israel is very complex and uses many different spices. Growing up in Israel, whether you like it or not, you are exposed to it. I started cooking because my mom was working and would ask me to jump in when she worked late. I found I really liked it. I began cooking professionally, and later moved to the Paul Bocuse Institute in Lyon. I saw a lack of understanding about spices that really surprised me—how little we use, and if we do use it, not necessarily in the best way. Throughout my 19-year cooking career, again and again I realized that people spend a lot of time sourcing great meat and fish and vegetables, but when it came to salt, pepper and other spices, they used whatever was available. Nobody ever stopped to say maybe there’s something better or more suitable for our needs.
- Lessons from Lior Lev Sercarz: Buying, Storing and Cooking with Spices
- Lior Lev Sercarz’s Favorite Spice Destinations in the World
- Spices by Lior Lev Sercarz
- How to Cook with Spices
I did an externship at Les Maisons de Bricourt with [three-star] Brittany chef Olivier Roellinger. He’s known all over the world for his use of spices, and he’s a very kind person. When he saw the interest that I had, he encouraged me to research the cultural aspects, the history, and religious aspects, even the financial aspects of the spice trade throughout history—from sourcing and growing the spices through trading them, to the plate in the kitchen. That just reinforced my passion; I just found it fascinating. There’s no real school for the spice trade, since it’s so complex. You have to learn on your own.