Every self-respecting kitchen spice rack has a core of essential spices – things like cayenne pepper, oregano, thyme, basil, salt, and cinnamon. When you run out of something, say cinnamon, you go to the store and buy something labeled “cinnamon.”
But did you know that there’s more than one type of cinnamon, each with a different purpose, or that the cinnamon sold at most stores is a blend of them?
“Ceylon cinnamon is generally for Indian cooking,” explained Anne Milneck, the new owner of Red Stick Spice Company on Jefferson Highway. “Most people aren’t aware that there are even different types.”
By the time Milneck purchased the existing Red Stick Spice Company last December, she’d already amassed quite the metaphorical hat collection – journalist, mother, culinary school graduate, caterer.
But when she saw the business up for sale in a local listing, she went for it, and it only takes one visit to know why she’s right for the job. She can answer any question a customer might have about her long wall of glass jars.
In most cases, all you have to do is point at something, and she’ll tell you everything you can cook with it. And she’ll let you taste it, too.
“You can taste anything you see here before you buy it,” she said. “We also sell everything in any quantity you want. If you want a tablespoon of ground cardamom, that’s perfectly fine.”
Milneck’s any-amount-goes approach to retail adds up with another goal she has for the store. To ensure the freshness and quality of the products she sells, she doesn’t keep large amounts in the back. For the most part, what you see on the shelf is everything she’s got.
“Most of the time, people don’t want to buy a ton of a specialty spice,” Milneck explained. “I turn over the inventory by buying smaller amounts of everything, and that way I can have a bigger selection of things for people to buy – and they’re all fresh.”
Speaking of freshness, Milneck is currently in talks with a farm out of Vacherie that will provide the store with locally grown peppers for general use.
“Peppers are something that grows in Louisiana year-round,” she said. “There’s no reason why I shouldn’t be using locally grown peppers in my spice blends.”
The store’s spice collection has everything from specialty salts to curry blends and Creole rubs (blended in-store), and that wall can hold one’s attention for quite some time. But the opposite wall holds one of the more impressive products: high-grade olive oil.
“We get our olive oils from a small farm in California,” she said. “The difference between olive oil here and olive oil from a grocery store is huge. A lot of olive oils are actually oil blends, not 100 percent olive.”
Red Stick Spice also sells infused olive oils from the California farm, including garlic and jalapeno. The “infusion” is a true one: the farm actually presses the herb or vegetable fresh, in the same press as the olives, resulting in a deeper and richer flavor than simply letting a garlic clove float around in a bottle.
Milneck is especially proud of her avocado oil.
“Avocado oil has one of the highest natural burn points, so if you’re going to cook with an oil, it’s the better choice,” she said.
In addition to offerings for culinarily inclined customers, the shop has become one of only a few places in the city where devoted tea enthusiasts can purchase high-quality loose teas. Milneck credits her resident tea devotee, employee Angela Turner, with expanding the tea inventory.
“I have learned a lot [about tea] from Angela,” Milneck said. “We have some really great teas in here – everything from white tea to rooibos blends – and they’re affordable. We sell our teas at $3.99 per ounce across the board.”
According to Milneck, the most exciting item currently in the tea selection is a blend called “Chocolate Monkey” – a rooibos-based mix of fragrant herbal sweetness, with red peppercorns for a subtle spicy finish.
Regardless of why you might wander into Red Stick Spice Company, the aromas inside will make you want to try everything – which might be one of the reasons Milneck sometimes cooks with the inventory and brings the finished dish to the store for customers to sample.
In addition, she’ll occasionally invite certain guests to talk about different culinary themes. The next event is scheduled for Feb. 23, when a Southern University Professor from India will share authentic Indian cooking methods.
“She’s making me cook something in the store,” said Milneck. “I tried to convince her to let me cook it the night before, but she wants to see me try.”
It’s all in tasty fun, she claims.
“I really love what I do,” she added. “It’s fun to expand peoples’ palates.”
The Logic of Tea and Chocolate
There’s a lot more to tea than a stale teabag. Before we spoke to longtime Red Stick Spice employee Angela Turner, we had no idea that certain teas go well with certain chocolates.
In honor of Valentine’s Day, Turner and owner Anne Milneck came up with a surprisingly affordable set of gift baskets specifically for tea-drinking sweethearts, which include an ounce of tea, a recommended matching chocolate (or the chocolate of your choice, if preferred), and an adorable heart-shaped tea infuser.
Here’s a bit of the vast wealth of knowledge Turner bestowed upon us.
-Milky teas pair with milky chocolate. What is a milky tea, you ask? Any tea that begs for milk or cream, such as chai. According to Turner, “the more floral the tea is, the more milky the chocolate should be.”
-Teas heavy with ginger or citrus pair with milk or dark chocolate. Furthermore, teas with a citrus finish should be paired with darker chocolates.
-Rooibos is the most versatile tea, and can be paired with many flavors, including chocolate. Turner couldn’t say enough about her favorite tea, which comes from the South African rooibos bush: “It’s caffeine-free. You can drink it with milk, sugar, or just plain, and it goes well with dark chocolate, mint, and even cardamom,” she explained. Additionally, Rooibos tea contains a handful of antioxidants that are absent in most teas.
-Lapsang Souchong, or the “smoke tea,” pairs almost exclusively with milky chocolate varieties.
“I would never put lapsang souchong with dark chocolate,” said Turner. Lapsang souchong is known for its distinct smoky flavor, and that’s why Turner advised that the tea “needs dairy, badly.” She recommends Tahitian vanilla white chocolate.