In the kitchen with Savory Spice Shop owners

Video: Matt Perry recommends three recipes in time for Thanksgiving

By Penny Nakamura / For The Bulletin

Savory Spice Shop owners Matt and Betsy Perry know precisely which of their more than 200 spices or spice blends they should use when preparing their dinner at home in southwest Bend, and they know exactly how much to use.

Matt Perry proudly calls himself the spice merchant of the Old Mill.

“We’ve always been foodies. We enjoy getting most of our fruits and vegetables through our CSA,” said Perry as he chopped up some fresh fennel and potatoes from his latest bag of produce from local farms. “We were always looking at different ways of flavoring our food, and we were visiting California and found this spice shop, and we found these spices added so much wonderful flavor to what we were cooking. We thought we should bring this to Bend because there are so many foodies and locavores here.”

Betsy Perry, a teacher at Miller Elementary School, says she was all in when they started talking about opening their shop. Matt Perry quit his metal fabrication job and hasn’t looked back since.

“I love being a spice merchant,” said Perry with a smile. “I love going to work every day. We often trade recipes with our customers, and I basically talk with foodies all day.”

The Perrys recently celebrated the shop’s second anniversary, and they’re gearing up for the busy holiday season, when home cooks and bakers kick things into overdrive from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day.

“This time of year, as you can imagine, we sell a lot of pumpkin and apple spices or blends. We have turkey spice blends, spices for your stuffing and any flavor you could possibly need for your holiday meals. We carry more than 400 different products in the shop,” said Perry as he sprinkled some Asian spices on tuna he was prepping for the grill. “We have a flatiron prime rib rub that we are constantly ordering because it flies off the shelf.”

Perry explained that, while we now sprinkle black pepper, cinnamon or nutmeg on our foods, at one time, these spices were worth as much as silver and gold.

“The earlier mariners were really searching for spices. One Portuguese crew in the early 1500s had a single cargo on six to eight ships, with 5 million pounds of spices, and out of that, 4.2 million pounds were peppercorns,” said Perry.

Of course, now Perry doesn’t have to go on exhaustive searches for his spices. Instead the Perrys get their spice cargo from Savory Spice headquarters in Colorado. The parent company sources its spices directly from more than 100 spice merchants from around the world.

“We get our spices every month, and it’s freshly ground or blended in Colorado,” said Perry. “When you open your spice cupboard, if it doesn’t have the smells of your spices right away, they’re probably not that fresh.”

That’s not a problem for the Perrys. When they open their spice cupboard at home, with their neatly displayed spices lined up, aromatic scents waft through the kitchen.

Spices like curry powder that have stronger scents are kept in a separate space in the kitchen. The Perrys carry more than 30 different curries in their shop and have as many in their own immaculate home kitchen.

The Perrys love to cook and bake together in their kitchen, which they say is pretty close to their dream kitchen.

“We’re pretty simple people, so this kitchen works pretty well for us. We have a large island, which works great for prepping,” said Betsy Perry as she laid out some fresh kale and arugula to dry on towels. “Our house isn’t that large, but our kitchen is pretty big, relative to the rest of our house size.”

The open layout of the Perrys’ kitchen is perfect for the working couple who usually prep and cook while watching their son, Jack, 3, play, and keeping an eye on baby Julia.

Both Jack and Julia are off to a good start for being junior locavores and foodies. The Perrys aren’t afraid to introduce their children to the different flavors of the world.

Betsy Perry took out her favorite kitchen appliance, a Vitamix, and made Julia and Jack some applesauce with a sprinkling of Saigon cinnamon.

“I used to think it was a glorified blender,” said Matt Perry, as he watched his wife add the apples. “But we actually use it a lot for making baby food and smoothies and even almond butter.”

When the couple decided to franchise their own Savory Spice Shop in the Old Mill District, they had to first graduate from The Savory Spice Shop University.

Ask them about any one of their hundreds of spices, and the Perrys tell you what it goes with, where it came from and its history. They recount history, about how Spain and Portugal spent most of the 16th century battling over cloves, while the British and Dutch fought over nutmeg.

In Indonesia, there was a small island called Run, which was loaded with nutmeg trees, and during the 1600s it was considered the most valuable real estate. So valuable that England traded it to the Dutch for another island, which we now call Manhattan, in New York.

The new trade spice route leads customers straight to Savory Spice Shop in Bend, where the Perrys hope to add a pinch of pizazz to your food, while giving foodies a dash of inspiration.

What are three ingredients you will always find in your home kitchen cupboard or refrigerator?

An assortment of locally sourced vegetables, lentils and garbanzo beans, and of course, more than 200 spices and spice blends.

Favorite home meals you like to prepare?

Matt: Roasted vegetables with different spice blends. Tonight I will sprinkle some of our coastal California fennel pollen rub over the fresh fennel and potatoes, which will be roasted in the oven.

What is your favorite home kitchen appliance?

Betsy: I love my Vitamix. We use it at least once a day. I make the baby food, smoothies and almond butter. I used to use a Cuisinart, but this is much better.

What is your spice of choice?

Matt: For a spice merchant, this is like choosing your favorite child. But if I were on a deserted island and I could only bring three spices, I guess it would be cinnamon, ancho chili powder and aspics. I figure, if I’m on an island I could probably make my own sea salt!

What chefs to you admire most?

Jamie Oliver and Alice Waters. Both chefs like to cook simple and cook real food.

They both use locally sourced food, farm to table, and that’s what we like, too.

What local restaurants do you most enjoy?

This is a hard one, because so many restaurants buy their spices from us. Real Street Food Bistro, Spork, Blue Pine, Chow, Sarah’s Raw & Vegan Cafe, Lone Pine, Jen’s Garden and then most of the local breweries. A lot of the breweries will send their brewers here when they’re making specialty beers, and they buy many of their spices from us for the beer.

Do you have a favorite cooking memory?

Betsy: I remember baking cookies with my grandma. Chocolate chip, of course.

Matt: My dad taught me how to make spaghetti sauce, and how to saute the onions, add in the spices and seasoning. It was the first meal I learned to cook.

Guilty food pleasures?

Betsy: Chocolate chip cookies.

Matt: I’d have to say any Mexican food, but I love any and all burritos.

What is your ideal kitchen?

We love the kitchen we have; it has lots of counter space and storage space, but I’d probably upgrade the appliances. But it’s mostly what we want.

If you couldn’t be in the food industry, what profession would you have chosen?

Betsy is a school teacher at Miller Elementary; as for myself it’s unknown. I didn’t even know that I could be a spice merchant until a couple of years ago!

Favorite food quote or philosophy you often repeat to yourself?

“Eat food, mostly plants, not too much.” — Michael Pollan, author of “Omnivore’s Dilemma” among others.

“It’s hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.” — President Theodore Roosevelt

— Reporter: pnakamura@bendbulletin.com

Editor’s note: In the kitchen with … features people in the local culinary scene at home in their own kitchens. To suggest someone to profile, contact athome@bendbulletin.com.