In Costas Halavrezos' kitchen, his cookbooks lay on a shelf nestled beside tins of spices. The fact that these two share space could be a happy logistical accident, but considering his penchant for all things culinary and literary, it's an apt metaphor.
Halavrezos---who's worked as a journalist, a CBC radio host and most recently as spice peddler at the Historic Farmers' Market--- recently celebrated the launch of his book Seasoned, released by Nimbus Publishing. It's a collection of recipes and what he calls "well-spiced personal essays."
The trademark tins found on his shelf are the same ones you'd find at his stand, a collection of meticulously sourced whole spices from Epices de Cru, a Montreal-based spice vending business. But like any good spice peddler, one must not only describe the desirability and functionality of his wares, but how many of them work together.
Spices are long-storied items, with rich histories and flavours. And so to bring out that richness and texture to his customers, Halavrezos, also known as The Spiceman, started writing a series of weekly promotional emails to the customers of his spice stand at the market. "Originally, I wanted to keep track of clients, and I would send out info out on new products," he says. "I was carrying around 90 of them." Halavrezos decided that it was important to let his customers know not only what they had at their disposal but how to use them. "So I started sending out a newsletter, inviting people to send me their recipes. I knew it was important for people to have recipes to work with."
But soon the emails became a way for him to engage with his customers. At first glance, it may seem that the essays were nothing more than advertorial content for his business, but then Halavrezos started to move into personal essay territory. "The shift was very gradual," he says. "The essays became a weekly contact. I'm not trying to convince someone of anything. It's not especially personal but I have the feeling that people may relate to them in their own lives, like the first time you start cooking. Several people have mentioned they look forward to them. People write back about the ones that touch them, or mean something to them. Getting feedback is what made me expand the personal essay side to them."
If Halavrezos has his way, a lot of people will be experiencing their first time cooking with dishes from his new book. Most of the recipes in Seasoned are from his personal arsenal, but there are a few items that were culled from elsewhere. "They are either from spice trekkers, or submitted by customers," he says.
But the work of a spice vendor is like that of a storyteller, it's about knowing what individual ingredients work well when blended with others. Although recipes are often the key ingredient in books about food, in the case of Seasoned, they could easily be argued to be on equal footing with the essays that introduce them. Halavrezos says the book is an exercise in balance, something he learned about while working in radio.
"Just like when you're producing a show, you want people to go through a variety of sensations, the serious and the light hearted," he says. "It's like a balanced meal."