Tucked away in a little boutique next to Silverlake’s Sunset Junction is Los Angeles’ culinary inspiration. Not a Michelin Star restaurant, but a cozy and intoxicatingly fragrant, flavor thesaurus of a spot called the Spice Station. We went in hoping to learn a little bit of the background about the store and its owners, Peter Bahlawanian and his wife Bronwen Tawse, and left wanting to bake with Turkish Urfa Biber chillies (read a bit about them here), make a Vadouvan Curry, and create our own spice mixes from inspiration blends like “Crazy Chicken” (a jar that smelled like the chicken was already cooked and plated before us), and “Berbere” (a blend containing eight different chillies and smoked paprika).
Around 200 spices, herbs, special house made spice blends and rubs, and infused salts and sugars are available for purchase. With over 30 different suppliers, the Spice Station gets their goods directly from the importers themselves. The spices therefore retain their potency much more efficiently than if there were a middleman involved. The shop has shelves on display that are stacked high with deep, earth-colored spices, all sourced and handpicked from the far corners and crevices of the world. Small jars of each spice are stacked, labeled and described in the store for some educational smelling and tasting, and most items are available for purchase in amounts as small as one ounce.
Walk in and it smells like a restaurant you’ve been dying to try or a Grillmaster’s backyard party. People will enter with specific lists and leave with a whole new perspective on flavor manipulation. It’s not just a spice store – it’s an empowering gastronomic workshop that inspires everything from grill rubs to baking to cocktail culture to plain old pan sauces. Perhaps what makes Spice Station special, dare we say, isn’t the abundance of hard-to-find spices, but rather the tangibility and exposure that the owners and staff provide. We met Heather, a part-time-turned-full-time employee who worked in entertainment prior to her permanence at Spice Station. She quickly became our favorite Spice Girl, sharing her secrets, talking trends, and introducing us to her favorite blends while simultaneously making the unfamiliar seem completely accessible to her customers and us. Rather than being a proponent of mastering spices, Heather seemed to be one of experimentation. The employees also come up with their own blends and some get chosen for packaging. Advice for making your own spice blends? Start small, then add spices pinch by pinch (the tiniest of pinches if you’re working with a lot of chili or heat). You can always add more, but you can’t take away.
Come to Spice Station and feel free to ask questions. Ripen your palate, rework your spice rack, and take home a novel glossary of cookery arsenal.
Spice Station’s Tips:
Look for vibrancy in color: pigments should pop, not appear dull.
Smell them if possible; for most spices, the stronger the aroma, the better.
Keep spices away from heat and direct sunlight (never keep them over the stove.)
Heather’s Spice Rack:
Cumin, paprika (she prefers smoked), a versatile chili (she likes Aleppo, a chili that she says adds a tangy element without too much heat), black pepper, and a favorite salt (she’s into the Spanish rosemary salt).