Lior Lev Sercarz is spice blender to the stars – star chefs, that is. From Eric Ripert to Michelle Bernstein, Paul Kahan and Apollonia Poilâne, his roster of clients is a veritable “who’s who” of culinary innovators. Even those chefs who know how to blend their own spices agree: Sercarz just does it better.
Sercarz’s culinary education started early, as a young boy in Israel. His is not a romantic story of techniques and recipes handed down from his elders, but rather one of practical cooking. His mother worked late, and would leave behind ingredients for him to prepare dinner for his younger siblings. As years passed, and his family lived and traveled throughout Europe, Lior’s exceptional palate was honed by the wide range of cuisines and cultures he encountered.
At the age of 19, Sercarz joined the Israeli army, where he was charged with kitchen duty. It was there that he learned the simple but indispensable purpose of “food as satisfaction.” Upon leaving the army, he traveled throughout South America, and there discovered his interest in uncovering the source of food traditions. The spice trade, in particular, sparked his curiosity, because of the relative lack of industrialization in the creation of spices. His appreciation for these hand-harvested products only grew during his time at the Institut Paul Bocuse in Lyon, France, most especially during a culinary externship under the wing of Olivier Roellinger, a three-star Michelin chef renown for his rare knowledge of seasoning and spice blending techniques. From there, Sercarz moved on to New York’s Daniel, where he experimented with blends and eventually built an extensive spice rack, inspiring his current business, La Boîte á Epice.
For each of his 41 signature spice blends (plus 30 additional blends exclusively available to chefs), Sercarz seeks not to imitate a particular flavor, but rather to evoke a sense memory of a particular place. His “Cancale”, for example, is named for the town where he trained with Roellinger and features the region’s signature fleur de sel, as well as orange peel and fennel seeds from the plants that grow on Brittany’s cliffs.
ICE recreational students had the pleasure of discovering twelve of Sercarz’s multi-sensory spices, including Cancale, in a cooking class that celebrated the release of Sercarz’s first cookbook, The Art of Blending. Like his spices, this book evokes an emotional response from its reader, with vivid pictures and anecdotes that span the world’s many flavors and cultures. Select chefs from Sercarz’s bevy of celebrity clients contributed recipes featuring each of his signature blends, from soups to sweets, smoked fish and even cocktails.
Sercarz himself is a highly skilled chef, and orchestrated the impressive production of fourteen different dishes that night. Yet his instruction was far from heavy-handed. As he explained to the class, he does not care how people choose to use his spices. He respects the creativity of the individual, and how they choose to interact with his blends. That said, the impetus to publish this cookbook originated with the frequent requests for recipe suggestions from his non-chef clients. Yet he believes that the cookbook also stands alone, regardless of whether or not an individual owns each of the spice blends included in the recipes.
It was in sitting down to enjoy our spiced feast that we were able to most appreciate Sercarz’s unique perspective. He diagnosed a certain ignorance in our treatment of spices, explaining that they are products like meat or vegetables. There is seasonality, labor and a variance in quality. His blends range from 9 to 23 ingredients, and can take as little as one day, or as long as six months, to create. Each blend is approached with a meticulous attention to detail that demonstrates a deep understanding of his raw ingredients. From the selection of salt, to heat, to more unusual flavors, no decision goes unweighed, infusing Sercarz’s products with an incomparable complexity. His spice blends are truly a pleasure to work with – for all the five senses.