- Simon Thibault
- Halavrezos slings the spices every Saturday at the Historic Farmers’ Market.
Last September, Costas Halavrezos signed off for the last time as the host of CBC Radio's Maritime Noon. After 23 years of radio in Halifax, he soon found himself in a bit of a predicament. "On the second day of my retirement, I was drumming my fingers, wondering what mischief I could get into," he jokes. That desire for mischief led him to opening a small stand at the Historic Farmers' Market in Halifax, selling everything from cinnamon from Sri Lanka to ghost chile peppers from India.
It all started with a small tin of spices he had bought in Montreal---Halavrezos' son had introduced him to the raw spices and blends made by Épices de Cru. So he contacted the owners, Ethné and Philipe de Vienne. "We were surprised to hear from someone in Halifax who was interested in our spices," says Ethné. The de Viennes were interested in having their products brought here, but wanted to make sure that they would be introduced to customers through smelling and tasting, rather than sitting on a shelf, unopened and unknown. They knew they had found the right man in Halavrezos. "He informed himself so well and so thoroughly about the products that he could pass on facts to his customers," says Ethné.
Through this tasty turn of events, Halavrezos set up shop as The Spice Man at the Historic Halifax Farmers' Market, less than three months after his retirement. At first, people were surprised to see---or rather hear---the broadcaster at the market. People "would hear my voice and go, 'Oh!'" he jokes. A visit to Halavrezos' stand on a Saturday morning will probably find him grinding spice blends, explaining the history and origins of the spice trade or just listening and talking with shoppers. For him, interacting with the public was like a return to his roots. "I like the market experience, it's very familiar to me," he says. "I grew up at a lunch counter, selling stuff to people across a counter."
The former radio host jokes that his lunch counter experiences helped him in dealing with the public. "It was a good background for public broadcasting as well," he laughs.
After a busy start during last year's holiday season, Halavrezos knew he was onto something. "I wasn't interested in just doing it and then having it flame out," he says. "I was interested in building it." Over the next few weeks and months, he built a customer base, who have since started asking for more exotic spices. "People have asked for tonka beans---used in baking---and epazote---used in Mexican cookery," he says.
He now sends out a weekly newsletter, including recipes, information about spices and lists of what is coming in that week.
It's hard to decide who is the star of the business, Costas or his spices. Cooking with the signature spice blends has become a new way of cooking for him and his customers.
"Because there are no rules with spices, you may try it on something different," he says. "Like a chai spice blend, you may use it for tea, but I use it in shortbread. Or a Sri Lankan curry in zucchini bread."
For him, spices make the culinary world seem endless.
It's been a year since Halavrezos became The Spice Man and he plans on staying where he is. His love for food---and talking about it---is never-ending.
"Spices have terroir, like grapes," he points out. "You couldn't expect the same flavour of nutmeg from Grenada that you would from Indonesia." It's that desire to share that makes his approach different. Thanks to people like Halavrezos, our pantries and kitchens will never be the same.
To contact Costas or subscribe to his newsletter, send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org