Have you always been a foodie?
Yes, I had a precocious palate. Everybody thought I was fussy, a finicky kid. In fact, I just had a really good palate. And I had a family that loved food and afforded me the opportunity to explore all the curiosity I had about the world of food and flavor.
What brought you to Tucson?
I have angels that are looking out for me. They saw that I got to the right place for me. My mother passed away 15 years ago, and she loved the Southwest and the saguaros. And we never traveled here together. I got here for the first time, and I fell in love with it. It was like all my other favorite places before became spoiled.
Tell me about Flavorbank and how you got involved.
Flavorbank is a New York corporation that was founded in 1969 by some of the national fancy food pioneers. ...The company went into bankruptcy in 2005. The federal bankruptcy court took a look at the business plan my team put together and felt there was a really high likelihood that if anybody could make it work, we would, because of my connections in the national food scene and the local food scene.
What do you want people to know about the store?
All spices begin to lose their essence after 20 minutes. It takes 20 minutes for you to finish grinding when you're doing bulk batches. So by the time you're done grinding for the day, your product has already lost a lot. By the time it gets packaged, put on a boat, shipped to where it's going and warehoused, you could be talking three to six months ... before it even reaches the wholesaler. I mean, this is astonishing to think about. We have a spice bar with whole spices. You can unlock what they have to offer right when you need them. And by selling them to you whole, you can toast them, and you can use them in combinations similar to the rest of the world in their sophisticated use of seasonings.
We will sell someone as little as a teaspoonful of a whole spice if that's what they need, because I believe it's critically important to live it and make it fun and accessible. I want people when they walk in the door to be just enveloped with this incredible, exciting, exotic aroma.
Tell me about the radio program. What will people hear when they tune in?
My program is called Sunday Brunch. It's on KVOI AM 690. It's a two-hour show from 2 to 4 p.m. every Sunday to which we invite the most interesting and influential tastemakers in America. We try to be topical and thematic to the season and try to bring in people who will allow us to go to our farmers' markets and find what's in season so that it's most flavorful, most abundant.
How do you see the food scene in Tucson?
It's vibrant, exciting and, better than anything, it's promising. It's fabulous now and going to be even more fabulous and interesting. I will say it again and again: I don't think Tucson tastes like any other place on the planet.
Now you have a book club, too?
A cookbook club.
Tell me about it. What do you talk about when you talk about cookbooks?
It's a little different that usual. We don't just read a book. What we do is, we take a cookbook, and on any given meeting, we have 20 people, and we'll take 20 recipes out of a book, based on several factors, one being it shouldn't cost you more than $20 to prepare the recipe. I'll give everyone the spices they need for the dishes, and we'll cook 20 recipes and come together for a potluck tasting.
What three things are always in your refrigerator?
Champagne, organic eggs and a half-eaten can of dog food. I have five pug dogs.
What three famous people--living or dead--would you like to have over for dinner?
My great grandmother, my mother, Dorothy Parker, Cary Grant and Ella Fitzgerald.