Sage advice
Sage advice
Local shop offers diverse spices and boutique condiments 

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Ahh, spices. Ships long ago were launched in pursuit of them, and chefs today can't live without them. Their tight concentrations of flavor can push basic ingredients into unexpected directions, making diners pause and ask, "What's in this?" An empty spice rack is unthinkable to both home cooks and chefs, especially in a region that prides itself on flavor, say Gloria and Lee Easterwood, founders of the Red Stick Spice Company in Baton Rouge.

The Jefferson Highway shop just celebrated its second anniversary. In those two short years it has developed a strong following among local spice hunters, pit masters, olive oil aficionados and an expanding salt-free crowd. The Easterwoods stock both common and obscure spices and sell them by the ounce, an appealing practice for cooks searching for small amounts of items like saffron threads or black truffle sea salt. They also sell private-label olive and avocado oils and flavored balsamic vinegars from California producers. Returning patrons can refill their olive oil bottles at a significant discount.

The couple conceived their spice shop idea while living outside San Diego in Temecula, Calif., where they moved in the '90s for Lee's career with Bank of America. Native Mississippians, they were eager to visit the area's lush wineries and artisan food shops, but they couldn't find a decent tourist map. They decided to create their own, and in so doing, they sold ads to local farmers, wineries and olive oil producers. Armed with a new network of contacts and inspired by the area's successful culinary shops, the Easterwoods eventually hatched a plan for their own store. They began looking nationwide for the right location.

"Baton Rouge was a good fit," Gloria says. "People here are already into food and flavor."

The products within the store are carefully selected, Gloria adds. For example, the sizeable collection of loose teas has been chosen from World Tea Expo award winners like Petal Pedal, a caffeine-free herbal tea that won the Las Vegas-based event's 2010 iced tea award.

A spice wall includes affordably priced single spices, blends, extracts, sea salts, locally sourced condiments and rubs, including powdered rosemary, bay leaf and basil, cut and sifted lemongrass and juniper berries. Applewood-smoked salt is one of several flavored sea salts. A terrific match for turkey, brisket or pork shoulder, its intense nose resembles a woodsy campfire.

Other spice blends offered are engineered for poultry, fish, pork, seafood, veggies or beef. Gloria is committed to finding blends that don't rely exclusively on salt, and therefore offer more complexity.

The olive and avocado oils and balsamic vinegars are sold under the company's private label, but they derive from four award-winning California growers. The ability to sample these products is one of the store's greatest attributes. A small taste of light, fragrant key lime avocado oil immediately reveals its possibilities, especially for sautéing fish and poultry. "It's great paired with our lemon-lime salmon rub," says Gloria.

"It doesn't have to always be just heat or salt," she says. "Spices really allow you to get creative and try different things."

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