posted on by Jackie B.

So long, summer!

Today, as the first snow flies, we’re taking the afternoon to daydream about the fun we’ve had working in the sun. In memory of summer 2014, here are our favorite moments from the Conservancy for Cuyahoga Valley National Park‘s Topography event. Here’s hoping for an indian summer before the blizzards begin!
























Special thanks to Karin McKenna Photography for the stellar shots.

Posted in: Spice of Life Catering Co.

posted on by Molly Drake

Turning Trash to Treasure: Composting Tips + Tricks

Spice Kitchen + Bar is on a mission. Not only do we prepare entrees and cocktails based on the seasons of our city, we aim to directly decrease our carbon footprint(s). How, you might ask?

Saving the world with a bucket of scraps.

Saving the world with a bucket of scraps.

As the population increases around the world, so does our waste. More shoes, more food, more stuff. Of course we can recycle, reuse goods, buy vintage clothing, and so forth, but composting allows us to reduce waste and reconnect with the environment.

At Spice, we’re moving forward in our most sustainable way. When every pepper has been pitted, every onion shelled, the scraps enter the compost pile behind the restaurant.

The glitz + glamour of the Spice compost bin.

The glitz + glamour of the Spice compost bin.

So What?

Composting is the controlled decomposition of organic matter. When you compost and use it as mulch in your garden, it naturally increases the organic matter in the earth’s soil. This organic matter is essential for plant development and growth because it increases the soil’s ability to hold moisture and nutrients. And you, the gardener, don’t have to worry about adding fertilizers and pesticides (Think: cha-ching! How much money will you save if you skip purchasing bagged mulch or fertilizers this year?). The compost regulates the soil’s pH levels and eliminates the need for as much water without it.

Even if you don’t have a vegetable or herb garden, your nutrient-rich compost can be used for houseplants or landscaping. Also, check with your local community gardens. They may accept donated compost for their beds.

In The City

Many people have composting concerns: How do I compost? Where do I store the scraps? What if I live in an apartment building, can I still do it?

Time to queue up Rust Belt Riders Composting! RBRC is one of Cleveland’s first food waste removal programs. For a small fee, the Riders supply their customers with a five-gallon bucket and a schedule for pickup. They show up on bicycles hitched with a homemade trailer and carry your scraps to feed multiple gardens around Cleveland.

You can find Michael Robinson, co-founder of Rust Belt Riders, pulling compost around our neighborhood and serving tables at Spice Kitchen + Bar.

You can find Michael Robinson, co-founder of Rust Belt Riders, pulling compost around our neighborhood and serving tables at Spice Kitchen + Bar.

Spice was one of RBRC’s very first clients. The Riders pick up our scraps whenever we fill up, which can be quite often, and deliver the decomposing goodies to community gardens. By utilizing this service, we are on our way to a more sustainable city. This is the time where “everyone’s doing it” can actually be a positive outlook on a situation.

Environmental Effects

According to RBRC’s website, the US Environmental Protection Agency indicates that 24% of household waste is compostable. When food scraps are sent to landfills and begin to decompose, the scraps produce methane gas, “a greenhouse gas twenty times more damaging to the o-zone layer than carbon dioxide.”

We have the opportunity to take part in the entire cycle. What’s good for the soil turns out is also good for the soul. Imagine if we ALL composted our food scraps? Or dead leaves? And newspapers?

In most schools and work places, children and employees are encouraged to recycle their pop cans, water bottles, and paper scraps. However, energy and resources are used to transport the waste materials to a recycling or garbage facility where the items are sorted, transported, and produced into something new. You, with your own two hands, can churn and generate compost in your backyard.

Composting All Year Round

And you can compost, all year, without the help of the ardent Riders. Yes, Clevelanders, even in the sleet and the snow and the increasingly frigid temperatures, you can compost.

Even in the winter, a compost pile is alive. The decomposition is known as exothermic, meaning that heat is a by-product of the chemical process that breaks down the organic material, or, your food scraps. That said, the process slows down in colder temperatures. Just like food keeps longer in the refrigerator or freezer, the compost pile will not decompose as quickly as it would in warmer temperatures.

It's alive! Chef Ben's home kitchen compost monster.

It’s alive! Chef Ben’s home kitchen compost monster.

So start with a plastic buckets, with a lid, which works just fine to store your scraps but stainless steel keeps the smell from taking over your kitchen. You can also create your own composter for outdoors (see below). But, beginning the process with a large mass of compost will help maintain a good compost temperature in the winter (you can buy a starter if you don’t have enough).

When it’s warm weather, it’s easy to just throw scraps onto the pile and watch it decompose. But in the cold season, take a little extra time to layer the browns and greens, which aids in insulating the pile. This traps the heat and gases inside and the decomposition process continues.

Though compost is made up of mostly food waste, it still requires its own special diet. Carbon and nitrogen-rich nutrients are key to a full belly, such as fruit and vegetable peels, coffee grounds, or eggshells. If you house a few chickens in your backyard, snag some of their manure, which is conveniently loaded with nitrogen. For more carbon-rich ingredients, use straw, dead leaves, or even shredded newspaper. Small amounts of ash from your fireplace boosts the calcium, phosphorus, and potassium of your compost. Who knew, one man’s food scraps are a compost pile’s full, steaming, healthy belly?

Make Your Own Insulated Composter:

1. Cut the bottom out of a plastic trash can. Poke or drill holes 6 to 12 inches from the top.

2. Dig a hole (about 12 inches deep) in an area that gets lots of sunlight and sink the can into it.

3. Insulate the exposed part of the can with straw bales and dead leaves.

4. Put a few scoops of your already fashioned compost or soil to the bottom and then layer brown and green ingredients. Keep the lid closed between every addition of scraps.

Other Helpful Tips:

1. If you don’t have rabbits or chickens, you can always purchase alfalfa pellets or blood meal to boost the nitrogen levels.

2. Aid the microbes by doing some of the work: shred the newspaper, chop your spoiled food, and mix the ingredients well before adding to the pile. This way, the pile heats up uniformly and easier than it would all on its own.

3. The microbes require moisture to survive. During warm spells (though few and far between in the winter, this is Cleveland after all), water the pile so that it’s damp but not soaked.

4. Oxygen is key to microbial survival. However, you don’t want to disturb the insulation of your pile so save your pitchforks for turning in the spring.

5. Sit the pile in the sun! Think of solar power as your new best friend.

6. Cover the pile with a canvas or tarp to prevent heat and moisture loss. But, when it snows, you can always leave the icy blanket on top of the pile for extra insulation. Scrape it off when you’re ready to add a fresh layer.

7. Packing straw bales around your bin or pile can add another layer of protection from cold temperatures and wind.

8. Dig a trench and fill it with your compost. The earth’s stored heat will add as a natural insulator.


Original source for Michael Robinson & Spice compost bin images: “The Rust Belt Riders Pedal a Green Solution for Detroit Shoreway,” by Emily Banforth.

Posted in: Spice Acres, Spice Kitchen+Bar, Uncategorized
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posted on by Adam Gale

Q+A with Chef Joshua Woo, Our New Director of Culinary Operations

Josh Woo Spice Cleveland

We are thrilled to welcome Chef Joshua Woo as our new director of culinary operations at Spice.

For Chef Joshua Woo, cooking is more than just a job; it’s a way of life. Growing up around southern and traditional Asian cuisines, this particular chef (affectionately known as “Woo!” among the staff) brings a unique perspective to the culinary team at Spice.

In this interview, we talk to the Cleveland boomeranger about his background, his opinions on the thriving Cleveland food scene, and his innovative ideas for Spice’s fall menu.

This is your second time living in Cleveland: What brought you here initially?

About seven or eight years ago, I came up to work after I had graduated from culinary school. Ben [Bebenroth] and I had worked together down in Charleston and we had a good rapport with each other. He was talking about starting his catering company and he needed some help so I decided to come up and help him. I actually lived in his attic and worked in his basement!

That was the beginning: in culinary school. We both entered into the advanced program at Johnson & Wales and we met a bunch of people that loved to cook and we all hung out. I think it was the opportunity to go to a bigger city and try something new that drew me to Cleveland.

Josh Woo Spice of Life Catering Cleveland

Chef Ben, shown here, and Chef Woo worked together in this basement during the start up days of Spice of Life Catering Co. Woo commuted two floors up – to the attic – at the end of his work day.

What brought you back the second time?

Even after I moved away, Ben and I still kept in touch and talked about our different businesses and bounced stuff off each other and looked to each other for ideas. After I got married, we started talking about Cleveland again and I really liked his vision for the company and the focused progress he had made since I left.

Spice was doing exactly what I was trying to do in Wilmington, but I didn’t have a big enough market. I was really intrigued by the whole idea of letting the farmers speak for themselves and supporting the local economy. I came up to Cleveland for a couple days this Spring to check out the restaurants and I worked in the Spice kitchen for a day. The passion that everybody brought was incredible. That was something I’d been looking for for awhile.

What are some of your favorite things to do around town in your free time?

I’ve only been here a few months and I’ve been working so much, I haven’t really been able to do anything yet! My wife just arrived this week here from Wilmington. Usually on days off, I’ll just check out the neighborhoods and try to see a restaurant. I haven’t gone to any games, but I want to and also want to check out the casino. I’ve only been here two months so I’ve just been getting the house organized. We have two dogs and three cats so I spend a lot of time with them. Nothing exciting yet!

Spice Restaurant Chef Josh Woo.

Chef Josh Woo’s wife, Janna, is about to experience her first Cleveland winter.

When did you realize you wanted to pursue a career in the culinary arts?

I grew up around chefs. My dad was a chef before I was born and then he became a firefighter, but he would always cook at the firehouse. My mom also did a lot of cooking at home. My grandfather ran a Chinese restaurant and my dad worked there. Because my dad grew up southern, I had a lot of southern and Asian culinary influences growing up.

When I started, it was just a job, and then I started working at Port Land Grille in Wilmington and the chef took me under his wing and showed me a lot of cool stuff and I got really interested in it there. After that, I went to culinary school and worked there. Working at the Port Land Grille piqued my interest and was where it switched from being a job to being a career that I could do for the rest of my life.

If you weren’t working as a chef, what would you be doing?

I’d be a rocket scientist! They’re kind of similar, but a different pay grade.

What about Spice was appealing to you initially?

I’d been following Spice’s path from the start, from catering to when they bought and opened a restaurant. It was interesting to me to see where they were going. It was really a model of how I was trying to incorporate local farms and foods into the restaurant I was at.

Seeing their response up here and having the client base to support it was what interested me. I started talking with Ben and I knew that it’d be a good place based on what I knew about him. I knew he wanted to be on the forefront and push ahead and that he had a lot of goals. I was definitely interested in jumping on and helping him achieve his goals.

What’s your favorite aspect of working at Spice now?

I love doing the farmers’ market runs, but I also really love the staff here and their influence and dedication. Everyone cares about the food and the drinks and the experience. It’s a really cool place to work and everyone is really upbeat and motivated. I like the camaraderie of the kitchen and how everyone is into it. There’s not really any ego. The food comes first. Everyone makes sure that the food is good and guest is happy.

How would you describe your culinary style?

My dad always cooked Asian so that was kind of what I saw growing up. I’m interested in all different styles, but Asian would be my strong suit. I also really like the ingredient-driven farm-to-table type of cooking. I like to know and see what’s exactly in my dish. I like to know where it came from. I like to let the ingredients stand on their own and do what you know to heighten the flavor of those few components.

What are your favorite dishes to make?

Old fashioned comfort food. I also really like making dumplings and dim sun. That’s some of my favorite stuff to eat: Down-home stuff.

Why do you think so many customers are flocking to restaurants that feature local ingredients?

I think it’s just an opportunity to contribute to your local farmers and businesses. At Spice, we even try to get fish and meats locally, if we can. People say that supporting the sustainable practices is a trend, but it’s a good trend. Some people do it because it’s trendy and others because it’s what they believe in. All the chefs and employees at Spice believe in it and we carry those beliefs home with us. I think a lot of our customers love that and love that we support it. We put all our efforts into a greater good.

Note: Chef Woo also loves and supports the bacon scene.

Note: Chef Woo also loves and supports the bacon scene.

What is it about Cleveland that makes it so appealing for chefs?

I’m not really sure. I’ve only been back for a couple months. It’s actually a lot more food-centered than I expected, right off the bat. The farms around here are amazing with the amount of foods they offer. You can find all different kinds of cuisines and all different types of food. It’s also in a good location, being between Chicago and New York. It’s close to a lot of big food cities. Coming from Wilmington on the coast, there’s a lot of seafood but the farm scene wasn’t nearly as big. The stuff you can get up here year-round is amazing.

Can you give us a teaser as to some of your ideas for the fall menu at Spice?

We have a couple different things we’re doing for the brunch menu: A couple are traditional, but we’ve also got different items that you wouldn’t normally see. You can expect to see a play on our traditional benedict with braised pork belly, fried eggs and house-made hollandaise over a biscuit. We’re calling it the Dixie Benedict.

Posted in: Spice Kitchen+Bar
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