Monday's Food: A Sit Down with Orcas Alchemy

Monday, July 27, 2009

Dear Readers,

We have a very special guest today for Monday's Food. I'd like to introduce you to Lisa from Orcas Alchemy. Her unique line of "gifts for the adventurous chef" are available in the Seattle area and can be found right on my favorite Indie shopping site, 1000 Markets.












C & G: Tell me a bit about the history of your business.

Orcas: Orcas Alchemy started with a book my husband Matt gave me when we first started dating: The Man Who Ate Everything by Jeffery Steingarten. As a food writer for the magazine Vogue, Steingarten set out to taste and explore flavors and foods outside of his comfort zone, including those he didn’t think he liked or normally wouldn’t try.


To do this, he established a rule: Taste everything! And don’t just taste something once. Try it at least three times because your palate expands like a muscle when you exercise it. Matt and I decided to establish the same rule for ourselves – taste everything, three times – and my palate has been on an adventure ever since.


I can’t say that I have liked all the new foods I have tasted, but I discovered, for instance, that I love spicy food (I am now a certifiable “chilihead”), that anchovy paste can make pasta sauce sing, and that monkfish, one of the ugliest & scariest fish on the planet, is also the most scrumptious. I wanted my customers to have the same experience, so I decided to offer flavors that would arouse their curiosity and compel them to taste bold new flavors and get excited about sharing them with friends.

I currently specialize in Artisan Sugars, Salts and Spices, although I plan on expanding the product line in the future with other specialty products.


C & G: I stick a vanilla bean in my sugar bowl to infuse it with a bit of flavor. It makes a difference in the flavor, so I can only imagine how delicious your creations are.

I love to come up with essential oil blends in skin care and fragrance, so I am always interested in how finished items come to fruition. Do you spend a great deal of time coming up with your creations through trial and error, or do you instictively know what will be a hit? For example, did you immediately know the Habanero or Chili Pepper Verde sugars would work well?


Orcas: Each product comes together differently and I am always looking for ways to intensify the flavor and this requires a lot of tinkering. For instance, my Star Anise infused sugar went through about two dozen iterations before I invented a technique that just made the flavor pop. Now it is one of my most perfectly intense flavors (It’s great in coffee!).

Very few ideas work perfectly, right off the bat, and some are just disasters. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned about starting a business and exploring what works and what doesn’t, is that no matter how bad you want something to work the first time, the reality is that you have to make a million changes before you get it right.

I have gone through many different flavor combinations and a ton of different packaging options. Many of them sound great from a marketing standpoint, like coffee-infused sugar or red wine flavored salt, but until a formula meets my standards, I won’t put it in my product line even though I know it would sell. The product has to meet all of my standards.


I always seek out the highest quality ingredients (ideally, locally sourced when possible), and everything in my product line is all natural or organic.

C & G: I am intrigued by your World's Most Expensive Salt. Can you tell us about it?


Orcas: The World’s Most Expensive Salt is one of my best-selling products. It starts with hand-harvested black truffles – which are like a sexual pheromone – and then gets combined with an amazingly intense, tiny grain sea salt from Italy.

I then lace this concoction with 23 karat edible gold leaf and package it in a gold gusseted bag. It’s the ultimate gift for any Foodie. It seems impossibly extravagant, but a tiny amount goes a long, long, way and it is an orgasmic experience as soon as it touches your palate. It is very addicting. My two-year old son is the newest fan and comes back for more and more.


C & G: What is your best selling blend?


Orcas: My Raspberry Sugar is my best seller right now. It is a fresh and accessible summer flavor (try crushing with a little salt and rimming the glass of a mango margarita!). But I’ve recently discovered a cult following around my Caramelized Onion Sugar (which is a to die for on chocolate, by the way). Those sales excite me even more because it means people are stretching their palates and that there is a market for more exotic flavors.

C & G: Your business is part of an amazing community of Indie artisans at 1000 Markets. What does buying handmade mean to you?


Orcas: I am humbled to be surrounded by so much talent and creativity. I know that each handcrafted item on 1000 Markets was created with love and passion.

Not only does buying handmade support the creativity of small businesses, but it’s like being part of an extraordinary club whose membership requires passion, dedication, creativity and originality.

Q: What is your favorite creation from your own shop?


Orcas: It’s hard to pick a favorite because I am proud of them all! If I had one product I could not live without, though, it would be the World’s Most Expensive Salt. Every time I even open jar to smell it, it makes me swoon. It is such a rare and unique product.

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