For more than a year-and-a-half, our comfort level for time spent beyond our own driveways has been in flux. We’ve been told to stay home completely; to socialize in small, then larger, groups; to take our masks off and to put them back on. Just when normalcy seems to return, the rules change again.
That social whiplash has resulted in our homes becoming ground zero for culinary consistency. With more time on our hands last year, we adopted new food-centric hobbies.
We canned more—so much so that a national shortage of jars and canning supplies impacted the retail market a few months into the pandemic and has continued well into 2021. We made bread. Lots of it. And when commercial yeast was emptied from supermarket shelves, we learned to make wild yeast-based sourdough. We planted herbs and vegetables in backyard gardens. And we got creative with spices and condiments.
That spirit of creativity and culinary self-reliance continues, says Red Stick Spice Co. manager Tessa Kölb.
“I think a lot of people are just really wanting to expand their horizons,” Kölb says. “When it comes to how they’re cooking their meals, people aren’t doing your basic garlic, onion, black pepper and salt. They’re wanting to venture out and try curries and molé, and all of these spices that they had no idea even existed before. They’re getting to a point where they’re being more adventurous and broadening their pantry.”
Red Stick Spice Co. owner Anne Milneck says when the pandemic first started and the stay-at-home order was in place, regular customers were calling and asking questions like, “How do I break down whole fish,” and “How do I cook a standing rib roast?”
“People were bucket-list cooking,” Milneck says. “They were digging into things that they were curious about that they hadn’t done before, and they wanted our advice.”
In-person culinary classes, once shuttered, are now back in full swing, say organizers. And their themes reflect the kinds of ingredients and dishes Baton Rougeans are interested in learning more about.
“We’ve run everything from sushi making to homemade pasta; date nights to macarons,” says Louisiana Culinary Institute’s Alex Dunaway, who organizes the culinary school’s leisure classes for the public. “People are wanting to get out of their comfort zone and try something different that they may not have made before.”
In March, Milneck added a class that takes a deep dive on chiles, an ingredient she says has been trending. “Customers have been asking for a variety of dried chiles and chile flakes. We’re seeing people asking for heat sources that aren’t a bottle or Tabasco,” Milneck says. “I think there’s a better understanding of what heat does in a dish.”
Spice cabinets step out
More time at home has expanded awareness about how to use global flavors, especially dried chiles, which are reconstituted and added to sauces, salsas and stews and other dishes, Red Stick Spice Co. owner Anne Milneck says. Here’s a peek at some top-selling picks at the shop.
This article was originally published in the November 2021 issue of 225 magazine.