New Madison company creates spice blends for the home chef
While cooking at home, a family had the idea to start blending spices inspired by travel.
When Lombardino’s, a neighborhood Italian restaurant on Madison’s near west side, shut down temporarily in March due to COVID-19, chef and owner Patrick O’Halloran suddenly found himself cooking at home.
“Being a professional chef I don’t cook at home as much I used to,” O’Halloran says. “This was my first break in 20 years.” In order to keep busy O’Halloran started a YouTube channel and started creating cooking videos. “I had to keep cooking, I couldn’t keep still,” he says.
While cooking at home — and lamenting a canceled trip to Italy — O’Halloran and his blended family and “COVID bubble,” including his wife, Shelly O’Halloran, ex-wife, Marcia Castro, and soon to be daughter-in-law, Anne Minssen, had the idea to start blending spices inspired by travel. “We came together as a group,” O’Halloran says. “We started blending spices and having dinners together.”
And it wasn’t long before the group decided to launch a spice business selling a variety of speciality blends. The Deliciouser launched in late November. “I always preached to my cooks at Lombardino’s that anyone can make delicious food but it’s our job to make it deliciouser,” O’Halloran says.
Working out of their “spice lab” in the basement of Bunky’s Catering on Atwood Avenue, O’Halloran toasts, grinds and blends everything by hand. “It’s a very grass roots, handmade spice collection,” O’Halloran says. Castro, a trained chef and partner in The Old Fashioned, says she believes they fell into the spice business at an opportune time. “People are going to continue to cook more at home and these [spices] can be a real time-saver,” Castro says. O’Halloran echoes the sentiment. “Some of these blends have over 20 ingredients — it’s just stuff you wouldn’t do at home,” he says.
A popular blend, Vadouvan, with aromatics like shallots, garlic and onions, is a short cut to making curry. “Mix it with coconut milk and cauliflower and maybe a little chicken, and you have a really simple curry you can whip up quickly,” O’Halloran says. Another blend — Togarashier — is Deliciouser’s version of a Japanese “seven spice” blend and is “unbelievable” sprinkled on avocado toast, says Castro. Oaxaca, a blend based on red mole, can be added to roasted tomatoes and onions to make chili or enchiladas. “It gives you a chef quality edge in your own kitchen,” O’Halloran says.
Part of O’Halloran and Castro’s job is to create recipes for people to use with the spice blends, which are available on its website. “One of the things that we have found with the spices, it’s intuitive for Marcia and me to know how to cook with them, but with the customers when we did trials, [we found] they need a road map,” O’Halloran says. “So that is a whole new thing for us — creating video and content and writing recipes, we have to create a road map for our core clients so they understand and know how to use the product.”
In addition to its spice blends, The Deliciouser also sells a collection of salts including Kauai, a Hawaiian red clay sea salt, and salt blends, including its Signature Salt Blend made with sea salt, sun-dried citrus peel and fermented black lime powder.
Available at Orange Tree Imports, Fraboni’s, the Seafood Center and Vitruvian Farms, orders can also be delivered through the mail or picked up locally at Bunky’s for no charge. And people can expect new blends to hit the market in 2021 including a pink-colored salt blend, made with beet root powder and organic Icelandic sea kale, in time for Valentine’s Day.
Even with busy schedules and outside jobs, O’Halloran sees no signs that the group will slow down anytime soon. “More people are cooking at home, baking at home, and there is a need for spices … it seems to be ticking a box for people,” O’Halloran says.