i was a history major back in college and so have always been intrigued by the spice trade and its profound impact on the course of world events. as a cook though, i've come to understand and appreciate spices in a different way. while the spice trade no longer carries the geopolitical influences it did in earlier centuries, the "globalization" of spices as it exists today has deeply influenced the way the world eats. chefs have never had as much access to the world's flavors in their kitchen as they do today.
last weekend i had the opportunity to visit the newly opened le sanctuaire in san francisco and discover the latest spice trade route. jung tio is known by chefs as "'the man who knows how to get things.'" in his previous life, tio was an accountant and real estate manager, but now is more famously known for being the source of the latest exotic flavors. tio stocks his two spice markets (the original le sanctuaire is located in santa monica) and the kitchens of the western world's best chefs through his monthly travels to europe and southeast asia. some of the spices such as his variety of pepper are even grown on his own land in indonesia.
on that saturday morning, koko who came to le sanctuaire from the dining room at the ritz carlton gave me a guided tour of tio's spice route. i started off my journey intoxicated by one of tio's many secret spice medleys. appropriately named aphrodisiac, i could only compare it to waking up to morning sex. my journey continued to a wide spectrum of salts. i happened to be in the market for finishing salts and after sampling about a dozen, settled on three by halen mon: 1) a traditional sea salt; 2) a vanilla flavored salt; and a 3) roasted sea salt. from salt, i naturally progressed to peppers sampling all of tio's homegrown crops as well as several others. the range of scents and shapes were wide: some were earthy; some were flowery; some were not even shaped like your typical peppercorn. by the end of my visit, i had opened up nearly every box of spice they carried and was overwhelmed with the possibilities for all the new flavors i had encountered and left excited about the new sensory playground i had discovered.
le sanctuaire is located on the fifth floor of 315 sutter street (@ grant). call 415-986-4216 to make an appointment for your tour of the hottest spice trade around these days.