The Spice and Tea Exchange on St. Armands Circle showcased the versatile leaves.
Come for the food, stay for the cooking tips and tricks.
The Spice and Tea Exchange on St. Armands Circle and Tommy Bahama Restaurant collaborated to create a maze of well-paired flavors Wednesday that came together as a multi-course meal.
Different varieties of tea, along with a salt or sugar creation from the Spice and Tea Exchange, were used in every dish, from the Welcome Drink made with peach rooibos tea to the cocoa-seared scallops with a Chardonnay oak smoked sea salt to the soba noodles cooked with Lapsang souchong tea.
Lindsey Gaviria, manager of the Spice and Tea Exchange, was able to enjoy the creations of Chef Chris Johnson while also peppering the guests with the back story and cooking recommendations on various spice and tea blends. For example, instead of a store-bought liquid smoke to create a dense, deep flavor on the entree’s pork loin, it’s just as easy to use the aforementioned Lapsang souchong tea as the liquid smoke agent to bring depth to the flavor.
Speaking of tea, while flavored salts and sugars also played a role in the dinner, the leafy beverage took center stage for dinner. Gaviria demonstrated the proper way to steep tea: Use water that’s not quite boiling, keep a watchful eye on the timer to make sure it doesn’t over-steep and tarnish the flavor on delicate teas, and reuse your tea leaves for more than one pot.
During his demonstration, Johnson told the crowd in no uncertain terms that spices should be lightly toasted before they’re ground, to bring the oil to the surface and make the flavor stand out. A little heat goes a long way, which he demonstrated as he toasted fennel seeds. As Johnson brought it around for people to sniff as proof of his words, the smell wafted through the upper level of the restaurant.
Johnson came out between each course to grab the guests’ attention and tell them about what they’re eating. Without Johnson’s walkthrough on his cooking thoughts, it would be hard to pick up on the Dutch cocoa seared onto the scallops or the cherry tea in the watermelon gazpacho.
Each course was served with a perfectly paired drink, and guests left with full stomachs and a few new ideas on how to use tea leaves.