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To understand why I have such a passion for high-quality, absolutely fresh spices, you have to know about my mother.
In 1949, my parents immigrated from Yemen to Israel, settling in the Negev desert region where they became farmers and later opened a spice shop called Tavlinai Ha Bayeit (“Home Spice”).
My mother ground fresh spices for the shop every day, but she wasn’t satisfied with the quality of paprika peppers that were available to her — so she started growing her own. Not only that, but she hand-selected seeds from her best plants to improve the crop year after year. Before long, her paprika peppers were in such demand that the original one-acre patch became a 10-acre paprika farm.
The whole family helped out: Right after school we had our chores to do, weeding, planting or grinding paprika before we could go out and play. It might not sound like fun, but I have many wonderful memories of growing up on the farm and I carry them with me to this day.
My mother’s values have also stayed with me. She treated all her customers with helpfulness and friendliness, and she insisted on integrity in her products, refusing to sell anything that did not meet her standards for quality.
At Whole Spice, some of our best-selling spice blends pay tribute to my mother and her shop. North African and Yemeni customers from nearby towns loved her zhug, a popular hot paste which is used as a condiment in Yemeni food. Then her Moroccan customers asked her to make a harissa paste, which also became a hit.
She is retired now and my brother Yoav has taken over the Negev shop, where he still makes spice blends the way she did. And here in the United States, Ronit and I are also following in my mother’s footsteps. We fell under the spell of the spices, and the tradition lives on.
I’m always worried that I’ll run out of ideas, but it never seems to take long for me to come up with a new concept to explore. I ended up giving up my painting to blend spices, and have never looked back: I intend to keep blending for the rest of my life.