WHO WE ARE
Growing up, my father was the cook of the family. When my mother was pregnant with me, they had a running joke, “If this kid doesn’t like food, we’re sending him back!” Luckily for everyone, that wasn’t the case. Some of my favorite childhood memories center around the time my dad and I spent in the kitchen together as well as our family trips to little known restaurants and markets in Mexico and around the American south and southwest. His obsession with the flavors of New Mexico and a penchant for the cuisine of New Orleans expressed itself in an absurd amount of spicy food on our nightly dinner table.
In college, my aptitude and talents were nothing close to that of my peers, leaving me depressed, anxious and unfocused. I was eating a typical student diet of fast food and anything out of a box, and it only added to my lethargy and feeling of desperation. To avoid my shortcomings, I began to seek solace in the kitchen, buying a few decent ingredients and cooking for my housemates. I realized that school wasn’t the right path, and humbly moved back in with my folks to figure out what I wanted to do.
A job as a busboy led to a host position at an upscale SF Spanish style restaurant. Lingering around the kitchen a bit too often, the Chef offered me a position as prep cook, and I immediately accepted. A seed inside me began to take hold and grow with all of the incredible meats, fruits, vegetables, spices and flavors that came my way. After work, I began researching recipes and ingredients. I became fascinated with the history around each dish, how taste and smell is connected to memory, and how different cultures have influenced each other, their cuisines intertwining through the ages. I began meditating and eating well, and my head began to clear. Food became my medicine and cooking had become my meditation.
The kitchen was a real grounding place for me as I began to experience all the resources it offered to bolster my mental and physical health. Learning the chemistry, physics, biology, history and artistic expression available there excited me to want to share with others and inspired me to start this brand.
I began travelling as much as I could, cramming spices into my suitcase to bring back and experiment with. At home, I created blends that reminded me of my trip, the sights, smells and tastes I sampled as I walked through the streets, the marketplaces and cafes of the far away lands I visited. I got inspiration from the cultural traditions I witnessed, and instead of trying to recreate any specific regional dish, I sought to invent recipes authentic to my personal experience, a way of illustrating my adventure through flavors and textures. For example, my Nicaraguan blend (Mombacho Cafe) mixes the espresso I drank with flavors of the garlic and cumin scented chicharrón I ate on the streets of Granada. Mama Manje, a Haitian inspired blend, combines ingredients of the tea I sipped while learning how to make Epis with Haitian midwives, a cooking base of onions, peppers and herbs.
I continued to cook professionally, honing my skills as Sous Chef for a boutique Bay Area catering company while also hosting pop up dinners around San Francisco, centering the menus around my spice blends. Sharing my flavor combinations with family, friends and new clients was exciting, the smiles on their faces unmistakably reassuring. I finally understood that gleam in my father’s eye as he played in our family kitchen, happily chopping, sautéing and stirring. My body, mind and intentions were finally aligned; SpiceTribe was born.
When Nikko, my better half, became pregnant with our son, Zavian, I began to think more carefully about what we were putting into our bodies and started researching the source of the spices we were using. In the San Francisco world of “farm to table” everything, professional and even home chefs were increasingly interested in where their ingredients were from. I was surprised to find that not much information existed on where we were getting our spices, an ingredient so central to trade and globalization.
Around the world, many rural farmers are still being exploited for spices – we use black pepper every day not realizing it comes from small farms in India, Vietnam or Indonesia. I seek to bring awareness to these spices and make sure the farmers get paid fairly while also sourcing an incredibly high quality product – a win-win for everyone. I’m really inspired to create a brand that can help people cook healthier, get new ideas for recipes to make in your home kitchens, and also give back to the farmers around the world that make it possible. To pay it forward, we cook 600 meals every month to feed communities in need through The City Eats, we are also dedicated to helping support our local food banks and the World Central Kitchen.
Cooking makes us human. Cooking with quality ingredients makes us healthy. Cooking for others makes us happy.