I fell in love with cooking when I was about 10 years old.
Growing up, I have always dreamed of having a whole shelf of different spices. My mom never really let me buy anything aside from cinnamon because she thinks spices not used in Chinese cooking are unnecessary.
So whenever I get the opportunity to cook with new spices, I get really excited — I love getting creative with food. That’s why I was over the moon when I saw the 35 different spices lined up at Harvey Mudd College’s Hoch-Shanahan Dining Commons.
As an indecisive foodie who wants to try everything, I spend up to 15 minutes trying to choose what to add to my food everytime I go to the spice bar. There are just so many different spices to choose from, some that I have never even heard of or only dreamed of using.
For example, I always wanted to make a roast with chipotle morita powder or harissa because of the heat and smokiness it adds. The variety of salts — French sea salt, applewood smoked sea salt and pink Hawaiian sea salt — is also alluring.
Aside from the 35 little ceramic jars of dry spice blends, there are also crushed potato chips and Flamin’ Hot Cheetos for garnish.
Andrew Choi CM ’21 felt a little intimidated by the wide variety, but he definitely enjoys a bowl of vegetables and rice with chile lime seasoning.
“I love foods with an extra kick, which, sometimes, the dining halls may not offer,” he said.
Miguel Ruvalcaba, the Hoch’s general manager, explained that the idea of the spice bar was for it to be an innovative way to introduce spices from around the world to students.
“College is a great place to try new foods and learn about new culinary traditions,” he said via email.
When considering which spices to display, Hoch staff consulted with the student food committee, faculty and staff.
The Hoch is also in the process of installing a screen that displays the names of the spices as well as spice recommendations from students, chefs and experts. Currently, the most popular spices are black truffle sea salt, za’atar and ground sumac.
Black truffle sea salt goes well with most, if not all, foods at the dining hall. From salmon to vegetables to french fries, the truffle just adds a deeper dimension of flavor. Ground sumac and Cuban mojo are Ruvalcaba’s favorites, both of which provide a bold and zesty flavor.
According to Ruvalcaba, the addition of the spice bar has been very well received by the Claremont community.
“Anything that can help provide a better dining experience in our dining hall is what all of our staff always strives for,” he said.
As a vegetarian, Clara Zervigon SC ’20 is a big fan of the spice bar. Ever since the spice bar was implemented, Zervigon has had the same routine. She first gets rice and chickpeas and then mixes it with hummus, pesto and dijon for texture. Then she spices it up with za’atar and one of the paprika blends. For her, the final product is delicious.
“Before, I hated going to the Hoch, because I would just eat unseasoned rice and beans,” Zervigon said. “Now, I have options depending on my tastes that day.”
One of my favorite combinations is getting the mac and cheese and elevating it with the black truffle sea salt and Old Bay seasoning. It adds in luxurious notes of truffle as well as a kick from the herbs and spices. I also enjoy the chile lime seasoning with roast chicken and corn. You simply can’t go wrong with spice and zest.
In the future, I am excited to try the mesquite BBQ seasoning or ground fenugreek on roasts for a smoky and sweet flavor.
The spice bar is such a wonderful and exciting opportunity to be adventurous and bold with new flavors. I hope it inspires the 5C community to expand their palates and get creative with dining hall food.
Stephanie Du SC ’21 is TSL’s science and food columnist. She is a biology major and she aspires to work in healthcare. Her hobbies include cooking, traveling and eating all kinds of foods.