The Making of a Cookbook


with Suzanne Klein
Savory Spice Team
October 22, 2014
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Tags: cookbook spice to plate
The Making of a Cookbook

Since the first Savory Spice Shop opened its doors ten years ago on Platte Street in Denver, Colorado, we’ve showcased different ways to use our seasonings through recipes. Our product labels have recipe ideas, we print recipe cards to display in-store, we teach cooking classes, and we publish recipes on our website. But customers have always asked, “Do you have a cookbook?” We can finally answer an enthusiastic, “Yes!” Spice to Plate is Savory’s very first cookbook, featuring 30 recipes inspired by 10 signature spice blends. Below are some of the behind-the-scenes stories of how this cookbook came to life.

The Concept: 10 spice blends, 30 recipes, 1 cookbook

Spice to Plate Cookbook

The central concept of Spice to Plate is “One Jar Goes Far.” We set out to show customers how to creatively use one 4 fl. oz. jar of a seasoning in different dishes. We chose to highlight 10 of Savory Spice Shop’s signature spice blends, creating three recipes for each blend. The following 10 blends highlight the uniqueness of Savory’s products and represent a variety of styles and flavors:

  1. Baker’s Brew Coffee Spice
  2. Barrier Reef Caribbean Style Seasoning
  3. Bohemian Forest European Style Seasoning
  4. Chimayo Chorizo Sausage Spice
  5. Hidden Cove Lemon Garlic Blend
  6. Homestead Seasoning
  7. Paris Cheese Sprinkle
  8. Park Hill Maple & Pepper Spice
  9. Platte River Rib Rub
  10. Zanizibar Curry Powder

The Crew: 8 people, 12 job titles, 220 days

With our 10 spice blends chosen, we needed a team to make our cookbook dream a reality. Given Savory’s homegrown roots, we assembled an internal team of Savory employees and created this book from start to finish over a period of about 8 months.

Spice to Plate Cookbook Crew

Cookbook Crew: Suzanne Klein, Tony Correa, Stephanie Bullen, Shantelle Stephens, Mike Johnston, Janet Johnston, Matt Wallington, Mary Johnston

Savory founders Mike and Janet Johnston conceptualized the “bones” of the book then trusted the team to fill in the “meat.” Mike contributed by developing recipes for Chimayo Chorizo Sausage Spice and Paris Cheese Sprinkle. He was also the chief flavor advisor, tasting every potential recipe for the book. Janet offered up her home cooking skills as a recipe tester. She also played a key role in editing the content to make sure Savory’s voice was consistently represented. Mike and Janet’s favorite recipes in the book: Mike - Sausage & Egg Toasty with Herbed Queso Spread, Janet - Savory Ginger Squares

Spice to Plate Recipe Development

Longtime employee Stephanie Bullen was the perfect choice for developing the story and content for the book. As a flavor advisor, Stephanie tasted every dish coming out of the test kitchen and many recipes were tweaked based on her feedback. We feature her tasting notes at the start of each recipe section. Stephanie’s favorite recipe in the book: Strawberry BBQ Skewers

Savory’s “Protector of the Brand,” Tony Correa, made the Spice to Plate concept come alive. Tony gave us a gorgeous design that highlights the spices and brought the recipes to life with mouthwatering photos of each dish, the seasonings, and even some of the ingredients. Tony’s favorite recipe in the book: French Onion Roast on Toast

Savory’s test kitchen manager, Suzanne Klein, spearheaded recipe development. She was responsible for creating recipes with Barrier Reef Caribbean Style Seasoning and Platte River Rib Rub. She was tasked with the testing and editing of the entire collection of recipes, including coordinating the recipe testing program with our volunteer recipe testers. Once the recipes were approved, she cooked and styled (with Tony’s help) all of the dishes for their photographic debut. Suzanne’s favorite recipe in the book: Chicken Biryani

Mary Johnston, Savory’s queen of website orders (and Mike’s mom!), spends one day a week in the test kitchen cooking and creating with Suzanne. She brought her home cooking, Mediterranean roots to the project, creating new classics like a harvest-inspired couscous with Hidden Cove Lemon Garlic Blend and salmon salad cakes with Park Hill Maple & Pepper Spice. We feature Mary's gorgeous acorn squash salad rounds on the cover of Spice to Plate. Mary’s favorite recipe in the book: Lamb Meatball & Orzo Soup

Spice to Plate Recipe Development

Matt Wallington is the manager of Savory’s original Platte Street store and brings his good humor to the test kitchen once a month. In Spice to Plate, he wowed us with his creative adaptations of familiar seasonings. He took Baker’s Brew Coffee Spice in a savory direction with a rich shepherd’s pie, and he proved Zanizibar Curry Powder is ideal for a refreshingly delicious dessert. Matt’s favorite recipe in the book: Portobello Mushroom Sandwich with Coffee Aioli

Shantelle Stephens is the assistant manager of Savory’s Platte Street store and a monthly contributor to the test kitchen. Shantelle has a refined palate and a penchant for anything made from scratch. So it’s no surprise she gave us recipes like cured salmon using Homestead Seasoning and adult gingerbread-style cookies with Bohemian Forest European Style Seasoning. Shantelle’s favorite recipe in the book: Homemade Gravlax with Hungarian Cheese Spread

The Testers: 148 recipe evaluations, 52 recipe testers, 13 states, 1 Caribbean island

It’s one thing to whip up recipes in Savory’s test kitchen that our resident tasters love to eat. It’s another to create recipes that are consistent and easy to make in a home kitchen. To ensure our cookbook recipes would work in kitchens across the country (and at least one Caribbean island), we recruited more than 50 Savory fans, friends, family, store owners, and employees to be volunteer recipe testers. We shipped these willing and adventurous home cooks the recipes and spices needed to make each dish. In return, they sent us their very honest feedback…both good and bad.

Spice to Plate Cookbook Development

Every recipe in Spice to Plate was improved by our recipe testing program. Some recipes were scrapped, some tweaked, and some styled for photos based on images of the dishes recipe testers sent us. Our testers were so helpful that we feature quotes from them at the start of each recipe, highlighting serving suggestions or make-ahead tips.

Some of the recipes we loved in the test kitchen didn’t quite meet tester approval. We created more than three recipes for each seasoning in hopes of publishing the ones that were best received by testers. For example, Herbed Brioche Rolls and Savory Panna Cotta made with Bohemian Forest European Style Seasoning were eliminated in favor of easier-to-make Savory Ginger Squares and Caramelized Carrot Risottella. Other recipes were turned into more workable yet equally delicious versions of the same concept. For example, a Chorizo Baked Chicken dish with roasted veggies and rice made with Chimayo Chorizo Sausage Spice wasn’t yielding consistent results with testers. So we turned the concept into a Chorizo Glazed BBQ Chicken with bell pepper slaw that hit it out of the park with tester feedback. Similarly, a Curry Fruit Soup made with Zanizibar Curry Powder garnered rave reviews about the flavor, but testers were lukewarm on the concept of a cold soup. So we tweaked the recipe and turned it into a Mango Coconut Sherbet, which testers loved.

The Production: 24 potential titles, 40 cover options, 20,000 photos to choose from

Spice to Plate immediately struck a chord with the team as the perfect title to capture our concept: showing our customers how to translate the sometimes mysterious world of spices to a plate of food they’d want to make and eat at home. Although, there were a few cookbook title “gems” that were thrown into the pot for (not-so-serious) consideration, like Get Spicy with Savory, Scrumptious Samplings of Savory’s Spices, and Not Your Mama’s Spice Book. We’re sure you’ll agree that we ended up with the best possible title.

Once recipes were tested, re-tested, approved, and edited, we spent more than 30 days shooting thousands of photos to capture the perfect shot of each recipe. Savory’s test kitchen was turned into a food photography studio and became Tony and Suzanne’s second home. We’re proud of how the photos turned out, representing what each dish will actually look like on your plate. But it’s not easy to make food look “natural.” Q-tips, tweezers, and cooking spray became some of our food styling best friends.

Fun behind-the-scenes food photography facts:

Spice to Plate Production
  • Antique cabinet doors from Savory’s original Platte Street store provided the backgrounds for many photos, including the cover. An original painting by Mike (normally hanging in his office) served as the ocean-like backdrop for the Tropical Shrimp Cocktail.
  • A shrink-wrap heat gun from our warehouse came in handy to create the perfect look for the “broiled” tops of the Chilean Shepherd’s Pie and Ham & Asparagus Frittata.
  • We fried a dozen eggs to get the perfect one to top the Sausage & Egg Toasty, but it took only six attempts to get the perfect medium-rare pink for the Peppercorn & Cheese Crusted Steak photo.
  • The scoops of Mango Coconut Sherbet sit atop frozen lime halves to keep the icy treat from melting too fast under the camera lights. The background for this shot is actually an ironing board that happened to be covered with fun fabric.
  • The book’s closing photo spread (a pile of dirty dishes) was orchestrated after a big Savory warehouse staff lunch, where everyone was instructed not to wash their dishes!
Spice to Plate Cookbook Signing

Interspersed with gorgeous photos of the Savory store experience (thanks in part to Savory Spice Shop Southlands/Aurora, CO owner Kaeli Sandhoff of Kaeli Jo Photography) and Tony’s up-close-and-personal shots of the featured spices, the entire book exudes the essence of Savory and showcases how we like to cook…and eat.

After months of work, pallets of printed cookbooks finally showed up at our warehouse ready to share. We put Mike and Janet to work personally signing copies for store owners, employees, and everyone who contributed to the cookbook. Now that it is in stores for the world to see, we hope you enjoy cooking from Spice to Plate as much as we enjoyed making it!

Click here for more information about how to purchase the cookbook and accompanying spice blends.

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