Cincy Chic: After working in the information technology industry for years, how did you and your wife, Susan, become involved with spices and open your own business, Herbs & Spice and Everything Nice?
Colonel De Stewart: After banging bits for 30 years, I was ready to find something else to do. Throughout my work career whenever I wanted to take a break from what I was doing, it seemed I would always end up doing something with food. When I was growing up in Louisville, my grandfather had a fish and poultry market downtown. I would go in with him as often as I was allowed and “help” him. This was in the days when you had such things as live chickens running around a pen inside the store. I was also fortunate enough to know the original Colonel, Colonel Harlen Sanders. He was a member of my church, and I ended up working for him twice in my early careers.
As for Herbs & Spice and Everything Nice, I had a meeting with the late great Dick Von Hoene and the ever-perky Tawana Thomas who were the hosts of “Northern Kentucky Magazine” on ICN6 in Northern Kentucky. The Food Network was brand new, and I suggested that they should have a recurring cooking segment instead of the sporadic way they were showing cooking on “Northern Kentucky Magazine.” I left the meeting feeling very good about getting that off my chest. Two weeks later Tawana called, saying that she and Dick loved my idea for a cooking show. Now, when did I want to start? It was put up or shut up time, so that’s how Herbs & Spice and Everything Nice began. The products came later as an off-shoot of the program, and then finally, after countless farmers’ markets, we opened our store at Findlay Market.
Cincy Chic: What is your favorite spice? Do you both have a corresponding recipe to go with it?
De Stewart: My favorite spice is ginger. It is used in so many different cuisines. It can be used for sweets, savory dishes and even drinks. And don’t forget ginger ale.
Susan Stewart: My favorite spice is smoked paprika. I use it in chicken, deviled eggs, on pork, and on veggies. I haven’t tried it in a drink yet, but maybe in a bloody mary? Hmmm!
Editor’s note: Click here to download the Colonel’s Gingered Pork Roast recipe that incorporates the delicate flavors of ginger and click here to download Susan’s Chicken Paprikash recipe that uses smoked paprika. Also, check out this week’s TASTEful Recipe for another of the Colonel’s favorite recipe.
Cincy Chic: Since this is our “Spice It Up” issue, we wanted to know how you and your wife spice things up in your relationship, if you don’t mind us asking!
Stewarts: We always make time for each other. Our daytime hours are so hectic that we need some downtime in the evening. Since our first date, we always try to sit outside on our patio in good weather and in our big comfy chairs when the weather is bad. Then we listen to each other’s day. We look forward to this time more than any other. We also cook together, trying new blends or new recipes. We both love to cook and this way we keep our lives and our food spicy.
Cincy Chic: What is the most unique spice/product in your store?
De Stewart: The most unique spice is not saffron as you might guess, but something called Methi leaves. These leaves are from the fenugreek plant. There are a lot of folks who don’t know about fenugreek, the seed of the plant, but there are even more who don’t know about the leaves of the plant. It has a very bold warm and nutty smell and flavor. In India, it is used in a lot of different types of dishes. My favorite way of using it is in a cauliflower dish. This winter I plan on experimenting with it in some savory pot pies.
Cincy Chic: How does Cincinnati rank in terms of the spice world?
Stewarts: Believe it or not Cincinnati ranks pretty well. We are one of the few places in North America that doesn’t turn our collective noses up when thinking of meat and spices such as cinnamon and allspice. We really don’t mean to blow our own horn, but Cincinnati is also one of a very few select towns that has a spice store devoted to the culinary arts. It is easy to find stores that feature herbs and spices for health purposes, but there are only about a dozen nationwide that carry the selection that we do. Therefore, if someone wants to try a particular herb or spice it is fairly easy for them to do.
Cincy Chic: Is it a good city to find restaurants/chefs using adventurous spices and people willing to cook with them at home?
Stewarts: Folks at home have become more and more adventurous as time goes on. Exposure to things like, the Food Network and some of the great restaurants here in the city have made many home cooks comfortable with trying things that would never have been considered just a short time ago.
Many of our favorite customers at the store are local chefs. When they come down, we have an opportunity to get an inside look at what they are preparing in their restaurants. There are some extremely creative chefs working in this area, and many restaurants in the Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky region really push the envelope when it comes to experimenting with new tastes and using herbs and spices in interesting ways.
Cincy Chic: You recently gave a talk to a Mount St. Joseph home economics class about spices. What did you share with them? And do you plan on holding more “spice” speeches/seminars?
De Stewart: I give a lecture once or twice a year at Mount St. Joseph. This last one was on salts of the world. We compared and contrasted about 20 different salts from all around the globe. In the past I have covered teas and on another occasion, rare and exotic spices. I try to make presentations to as many different garden clubs, social orders, or just gatherings of people who are interested in the culinary world. The manager of the store, Alaina Repic, is a graduate of the Midwest Culinary Institute, so it is always an honor when I get to do a class with her at my side. She and I have done many cooking demos around the area, including vinegar tastings and spice presentations down at Findlay Market.
Cincy Chic: You have a fascinating collection of “designer salts” at your store. Can you tell us more about them?
Stewarts: We have 34 unique salts from all around the world. We have everything from regular table salt (Washington State Solar Evaporated) to Murray River Flake salt from Australia. We have salts that are coarse ground, fine ground, wet, dry and all states in between. We also carry many different naturally colored salts, as well as, 5 different smoked salts. Let’s just say, we like our salts.
Cincy Chic: Do you have any upcoming products that you are excited about selling?
Stewarts: Sticking with the theme from the previous question, we have two additional salt products that I believe are very unique to our area. The first is a salt from Bolivia that is called a chunk salt. It is a rather large “chunk” of salt that you use a rasp to drag across and salt your food. We also now have salt bricks and salt plates. These are from the Himalayas and are know as Himalayan pink salt. To use them you can either put them in your oven and heat them or put them in the freezer to cool them. For cooking they will heat to between 400 and 500 degrees. Remove it from the oven and place it on a trivet. You may then cook food on it right there at the table. Should you want to use it cold, remove it from the refrigerator and again place it on a trivet. It will keep sushi, melon, fruit, cheese, or anything else chilled, for the entire duration of your party. These have a very high “wow factor.”
Cincy Chic: In your opinion, what local restaurant/eatery truly is serving up spicy/unique cuisine?
Stewarts: With more than 50 different chefs/restaurants purchasing their spices from us, it becomes a bit of a sticky wicket to name one. But we will give you a short list of the ones that we are familiar with and frequent as often as we can. The list would read: Chalk + Wine, NuVo, Seny, Lavamatic, Fresh and Daveed’s. The chefs at these restaurants (and we’re sure many others) really go out of their way to try new and different ways to approach food. It is exciting to eat at any of these places.
Stewarts: Everyone involved hated giving up the radio show. We had worked for several months to pull the show together. Then three weeks into it, the station decides to change formats. Sigh, you gotta love radio.
Cincy Chic: What is your favorite thing about Cincinnati?
De Stewart: Cincinnati is a very charming city. I come from a few miles down river in Louisville. The two have always struck me as being fairly similar in their charm and grace. They both evoke a little touch of Southern friendliness and they both offer a wide variety of exciting and different things to do. If you are bored and live in Cincinnati, then you should take some more time to explore your town. There is always a lot going on. Often, we have customers down at the market who have lived in Cincinnati for 30 years and have never been to Findlay Market. Findlay lies at the pulse of Cincinnati, and it amazes me to hear that long-time Cincinnatians are unfamiliar with this precious historical and cultural landmark. I think people just need to take a little more time to look around at all the wonderful things this area has to offer.
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Makeup Artistry on Susan Stewart: Trina Paul