September 16, 2014 -
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.
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!
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.
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
Tags: Chef Joshua Woo, Spice Staff
August 27, 2014 -
Any foodies in the audience may recognize this month’s featured photographer, Clarissa Westmeyer, from her work in Edible Cleveland. A Cleveland transplant from Martinsburg, West Virginia, Clarissa’s passions include capturing unconventional beauty with her camera, fashion, and taking care of her eight backyard chickens.
We’re thrilled to feature Clarissa’s unique, ethereal photographs of some of the local produce that we serve here at Spice. Her work will grace our walls through Summer 2014. In this interview, we get to know the person behind the pictures as Clarissa tells us a little about her background, what inspires her and what she loves about supporting local business.
Q. What brought you to, and kept you in, the Cleveland area?
A. I actually came to Ohio when I started school at Kent State. After graduation, I was offered a job at American Greetings. That’s what brought me to Cleveland. I worked there for a couple years and then threw myself out into the freelance market and ended up being hired full time.
Q. If you weren’t a photographer, what do you think you’d be doing?
A. Oh, gosh. There are always so many creative ideas and things that I fantasize about doing! It ranges from being an organic farmer to a florist.
Q. How would you describe the style of your photography to someone who had never seen your work before?
A. I’m not very good at describing my own work! Other people have described my work as being sunny and happy.
Q. How do you choose your subjects when shooting for fun?
A. There are a variety of subjects that I’m captivated by. I guess it’s almost a challenge for me to find beauty in everything. I try to see beauty when it’s something that someone might not usually think is beautiful.
Q. Do you have any favorite local locations to shoot?
A. No, wherever I’m wandering I keep a photographer’s eye out for seeing beautiful things.
Q. Your work encompasses a broad range of subjects: What do you like about working with food specifically?
A. I think my sister put it best once. She was able to be in town and assist me on a job and she says, “Clarissa, you get to play dress up with food every day!” When we were little, dress up was our favorite game. We had a little box of crazy clothes and would play dress up together. I thought about that and said, “You’re kind of right!” For my profession, I also get to do a lot of designing of what the set might look like and it’s a collaboration, but I really enjoy that part of it too.
Q. On Edible Cleveland, it says that you have the “best-fed chickens in Cleveland.” Can you elaborate on that?
A. Sure! So I keep some backyard chickens. I currently have eight of them! At work, because we have so much food in the studio, we end up having a lot of food scraps. Whether it’s excess from shoots or leftovers form lunch, there’s always food. So at the studios we have chicken buckets, which are just normal buckets around the studio that I bring home to my chickens. Everyone, including clients, coworkers or stylists, know that any food scraps can go into the chicken buckets. Chickens actually eat more than just chicken feed, more than people would think. They love everything from lettuce to grapes and blueberries, to even cupcakes and shrimp!
Q. What do you think is the appeal of local restaurants and goods for a growing number of consumers?
A. I think it’s just a wonderful feeling knowing that you’re supporting your community and supporting your neighbors. The quality of what you get is so much higher and it’s so much more thoughtful to support the people around you. It inspires us to be more thoughtful in everything we do. Just knowing that the food that you’re eating was either grown by this person or that a good was made in your area is a great feeling.
Q. What was the best part about working with Spice?
A. It was a nice change to have an assignment to shoot a very specific thing. There are things that inspire me all the time and it can almost be overwhelming! So it was nice to be able to narrow the focus and to know that this was exactly what I had to do. I also loved going down and meeting the people on the farm and just talking to them and finding out that they’re as passionate at what they do as I am about what I do. There is nothing greater than seeing someone happy at what they’re doing!
Posted in: Spice Kitchen+Bar
Tags: Spice Art
July 31, 2014 -
If you’ve been into Spice Kitchen + Bar a time or two, you might have noticed something special about our signature cocktail menu. Sure, all the drinks are seasonally inspired. Yep, they’re all made from scratch with farmers’ market ingredients.
But what usually kicks off the conversation when people sit down with the drink menu? They love talking about the names.
With titles like, “A Rye Kind of Guy,” and “You’re Dill the One,” our cocktail menu can be quite a conversation piece.
Dave Hridel, or Captain Quick Wit as we like to call him, has unmatched naming prowess when it comes to his crafty farm-to-bar creations.
Stop on in and break the ice around “Gin It to Win It” or some other such thing. We promise you’ll start with a smile and leave with a laugh.
Here are our top ten favorite names so far.*
10. A Whole Lotta Rosie: Tequila, Citrus Trio, Aperol + Rosemary
9. Call Me Maple: OYO Honey Vanilla Vodka, Maple Syrup, Luxardo, Lemon + Muddled Griotte Cherries
8. Pressed to Impress: House-spiced Rum, Ohio Apple Cider, Ginger/Lemongrass Syrup + Lime
7. Try Walking a Chamomile in Your Shoes: Gin, Lemon, Chamomile Syrup + Ginger Beer.
6. The Smoked Prophet: Smoked Pineapple + Jalapeño Infused Tequila, IPA Syrup, Lemon + Carpano Bianco
5. Abra-Zacapa: Ron Zacapa Aged Rum, Carpano Antica Formula Vermouth, Creme de Yvette, Orange Bitters + Griotte Cherries
4. Melon-choly: House-spiced Rum, Cantaloupe Juice, Lime + Lemon Grass Ginger Honey Syrup
3. Cool Hand Cuke: Gin, Cucumber Juice, Lemon + Mint Syrup
2. All is Pear in Love + War: House-spiced Rum, Pear Puree, Ginger Liquor, Lemon + Cranberry Bitters
1. The Local Hero: Tom’s Foolery Applejack, Lemon, Berry Jam + Local Beer (DIY it with the help of Dave’s video on Cleveland.com)
*Editors note: These concoctions shift with the seasons and are not available year round. If you see something you like, be sure to ask Dave for a seasonal version you’ll love.