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Phillipe de Vienne  and his son Arik did their best to instruct us in judicious spice usage. Arik encouraged us to trust our instincts, as he passed around smell samples, many that made us sigh with pleasure. Arik taught 32 keen participants a two hour spice course, then his spice king father, Philippe, imparted further knowledge amongst the brouhaha in their very busy store, Olives & Épices at Marché Jean-Talon. Their spice line, available on line or in their store, is the popular Épices de Cru.

You are instructed to remember two basic rules: 1) add the spices to the hot oil so that they bind with the fat and remain flavourful rather than evaporating in a puff of steam, and 2) the rule of three; split your spices into three portions, adding 1/3 initially, 1/3 after about 20 minutes and the last third later on, if still required, based on your taste. If you chose to follow the rule of 3, it will require some juggling on your part, as instructions won’t be built into recipes.

Tacos Tacos Tacos


  • 1 T Pasilla Chili Flakes (2 T was a bit too spicy)
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 2 lbs lean minced meat (of your choice, mixtures are fine, or use shrimp or beans)
  • 2 onions, finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 T Salsa Verde (or hot sauce, or hot peppers of your choice, 2 T was overkill)
  • 2 t cumin seeds
  • 1 t dried oregano
  • 1 t ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 t ground allspice
  • 1 t sea salt
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 1 t grated lime zest
  • 1/2 c lime juice
  • 3 sweet potatoes, baked until soft, then mashed (or rice)
  • 2 T butter (optional)
  • 1/2 c sour cream (or can use yogourt, homemade cranberry sauce or hummus)
  • 1/4 c parsley, finely chopped or cilantro leaves
  • taco shells, crispy or soft, or taco chips (or lettuce leaves, as lighter fare)

Brown 1 lb of meat at a time in a large skillet, transferring it to a colander to drain. Heat the olive oil in the same skillet, adding the chili flakes, cumin and oregano (rule #1). After 1 minute add the onion.  When the onion is soft and translucent, add the cinnamon, allspice, salt, pepper and garlic. Two minutes later add the Salsa Verde, zest and lime juice. Combine the onion mixture with the cooked minced meat. Mix the cooked sweet potato with butter.


Chayote Salsa Ingredients

  • 1 Chayote, peeled, seed removed and chopped small
  • 1 Israeli cucumber, peeled and chopped small
  • 1 tomato, seeded and chopped small
  • 2 T parsley, chopped fine, or cilantro
  • 2 T lemon juice
  •  sea salt and pepper to taste

Mix all salsa ingredients.

Taco Shell: Layer the meat, sweet potato and chayote salad on warmed taco shell halves, or whole soft tacos. Use a baggie with the tip cut off to pipe on sour cream. Place a few cilantro leaves on top, then crisscross with chive spears. Also tasty to eat the mixture of meat, potato and salsa with crispy taco chips.

Lettuce leaves: Gather warm meat, sweet potato, salsa, cilantro and a dab of sour cream, on top of a round supple lettuce leaf to form wraps. Experiment by varying the dab with your favorite sweet or savory topping (chutney, cranberry sauce, hummus) and trying different salsas.

Alternative Mango Salsa Ingredients

  • 1 ripe mango, peeled, pitted, and diced
  • 1/2 medium red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 Jalapeño chile, minced (include ribs and seeds for a hotter taste if desired)
  • 1 small cucumber, peeled and diced
  • 3 Tbsp fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
  • 3 Tbsp fresh lime juice
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • diced avocado, red pepper, jicama (all optional)

One last variation: layer meat, potato, salsa and toppings on ceramic Asian wonton soup spoons for an original appetizer.
Thank you Susan Semenak. from The Gazette, “Follow Scents, Trust Instincts: Arik de Vienne” (October 22, 2011), for introducing us to the de Vienne family and their wonderful spice empire. Ethné, Arik’s spice famous mom, made an appearance during our course, adding even more authenticity and theatricality to the event.

Susan reminded us that that there are five basic spice flavour groups:

  • Bitter. Includes garlic, dill, cocoa, cumin, celery seeds, lavender, mint, oregano, sage and thyme
  • Sweet. Includes cinnamon, fennel, coriander, licorice and vanilla
  • Sour. Includes sumac and tamarind
  • Hot. Includes chili peppers, ginger, yellow mustard, black, white and pink peppercorns, Szechuan pepper
  • Aromatic. Includes star anise, cardamom, lemon grass, galanga, clove, bay leaf, nutmeg

For more information about Arik de Vienne’s spice classes and seminars, to demystify the world of herbs and spices, for home cooks and chefs, click courses. Or call 514-271-0001.

Check out this Montreal food blog. It has information you need to know.

Many thanks to my virtual manager, marketing maven, Robbie Sculnick who persists in dragging me along, not quite kicking and screaming, to become a more professional blogger. He talks way faster than I can absorb information. Thanks to Robbie, I manage to tweak the format, little by little, making improvements here and there. What a process!