Nick Davoren knows a thing or two about spices.
Davoren, whose “day-job” is in marketing for a global engineering company, first discovered exotic spices during post-college travels to Central America where he worked on archeological digs. In his journeys abroad, he sampled many unique regional dishes flavored with spices he’d never tried before. “I learned you can’t separate spices from culture, folklore, and travel,” he says thoughtfully, “and I learned to ask ‘what’s this?’ before putting something new in my mouth!”
His natural curiosity, combined with a love of cooking, led him to experiment with combinations of seasonings that transformed the way he cooked. Along the way, he also discovered he is a bona fide “super-taster” with a genetic pre-disposition for discerning flavor nuances.
Though life and career later led him in different directions, his passion for experimenting with spice remained a constant companion. When he met his wife Evelyn, a fellow “foodie” who also worked in the engineering sector, he knew he’d found a partner who shared his vision.
“We love cooking and good food,” he says enthusiastically, “and nothing enhances the taste of a dish like freshly milled spices.” After toying with the idea of creating their own spicery business for over a decade, the couple realized their dream in November of 2012 when they opened The Local Spicery in Novato, California.
Surprisingly, it is challenging to find freshly milled spices in the marketplace. Most commercial spice companies mill huge quantities that, in turn, sit on grocer’s shelves for extended periods–losing potency and flavor over time.
The Davoren’s “fresh is best” philosophy shines through in their diverse line of 140 whole and milled spices. The Local Spicery makes its premium small-batch, fresh seasonings and blends using high quality ingredients sourced from all over the world. They use only 100% “all natural” spices that have never been irradiated or chemically sterilized and about 60% of their current base spice is organically grown. The Davorens constantly strive to increase the use of organics whenever possible without compromising taste.
Nick particularly enjoys the alchemy of spice blending. He spends hours “playing ” in his lab to achieve the desired balance and flavor he wants. Spice, like wine, differs from vintage to vintage depending on the region where it is grown and climate changes. These variables effect taste and make each blend a little different. For Davoren, this marriage of art and science is all part of the creative process he relishes.
The Local Spicery’s original artisan blends like the Stinson Steak Rub, a versatile herb and ancho chili seasoning that compliments meat, chicken, and veggies, as well as their smokey, medium-heat Guajillo Chili Powder (with no salt or sugar), have become popular favorites with customers. Fans can also look forward to Davoren’s new “Dusk” spicy dessert blend set for release in early July. This unique orange and black pepper seasoning has an unexpected sweet quality that perfectly accents grilled stone fruit and more.
To monitor freshness, the Spicery stamps each seasoning package with its mill date–a practice unique to their business. “The shelf life of a spice is six to twelve months on the outside,” says Nick. If a spice doesn’t sell within three months of its mill date, it is donated to local food kitchens.
To preserve the essential oils contained within, he recommends storing spices sealed from oxygen in a cool, dry, dark environment. Warmer conditions will cause the natural oils to degrade and effect the flavor profile.
“Spices are not a collection to sit on a shelf,” Davoren emphasizes, “they are meant to be used!” He encourages his patrons to experiment with seasonings and incorporate them regularly in their cooking. “Plus,” he points out, “they add no calories or fat–just flavor!”
In the short time since its launch, The Local Spicery has attracted the attention of fine restaurants like the new Farmshop in Larkspur, which uses their seasonings to accent an array of dishes. They also have a popular booth at the year-round Sunday Civic Center Farmers’ Market in San Rafael. Be sure to say “hi” to their lovely and knowledgeable daughter, Rachel, who is staffing this summer.
One day, the Davorens hopes to retire from engineering and open a retail spice boutique. In the meantime, Nick is enjoying the journey–feeding his creative side and constantly striving to develop new and surprising seasoning combinations. After all, variety is the spice of life.