Taste Bud Profile
Lior Lev Sercarz
Chef Lior has never lost his love of trying new flavors. As a child growing up in a kibbutz in Israel, getting to experience the foods around him always seemed like an adventure. When I walked into his Spice Lab in NYC, I felt like I had been transported, and that I could be anywhere in the world just by picking up one of the magical little jars of spices that surrounded us. The way he has casually introduced spice and flavors to his own kids makes so much sense to me—and made me really want amchur "lemonade"!
Lior Lev Sercarz: I was born and raised in Israel, in a kibbutz. Everything was communal. I didn’t really grow up in the same house as my parents—the kids lived in a separate building with a dining room and classroom there so our whole lives were in this one building but surrounded by a very beautiful natural environment. The meals we ate with the grownups were in this huge communal dining hall, and the food wasn’t great. My grandparents had families outside of the kibbutz, and when we visited them, that’s when I started discovering what good food could be. I was particularly fond of the Tunisian side of my family. Their food was a big contrast to the Ashkenazie food I ate in the kibbutz—this North African cuisine had lots of spices, flavors, and I think that’s what got me excited about food in an early stage. I also used to go fishing by myself as a child. I’d catch trout in a small river near Galilee and I’d cook it myself over a fire. I was probably 7 or 8. I remember the walk to the river. Today I could do the walk in 5 minutes, but back then it took much longer because I’d stop and eat everything I could along the way. There were avocado trees, oranges, raspberries, blackberries, figs, apples—a lot of beautiful fruits. And that’s where I went to get snacks. After the rain there were chanterelles too! I also spent a lot of time sneaking into the communal kitchen. Everything seemed like an adventure.
In Israel, the street foods are amazing. The scents are so distinct. And then the produce in the markets—sometimes when I go back to Israel now, I still am reminded “wow, this smells like something, this is what it’s supposed to smell like”—unlike when I go to some grocery stores here. Fruits and vegetables should smell like something! It’s one of my favorite things to experience, the scents of markets.
With my kids, I treat spices like any other ingredient. Who ever came up with the idea that children shouldn’t eat spices? For my sons, I made puree for their baby food and always added spices. They didn’t know any differently! I don’t make a big deal out of it. Also their palates are developing constantly—they might dislike it one week and love it the next. Keep trying. It’s not just the food, sometimes it’s the environment too. There are just so many different factors. I put spices in everything I make. I let them touch everything. They touch the flour, they touch the sugar. We talk about textures and smells, and then they engage in their own way. I blend water with amchoor and turmeric and they call it lemonade—there’s no lemon. They don’t care! The idea of putting those spices in water is weirder to the parent than the kid. Why do kids eat Doritos? They LIKE extreme flavors! Just be willing to try and maybe think of it in a different way than you have before. I try to let them engage in whatever they want to—so we make chocolate milk at home (which they didn’t know you could “make”), and we discuss the cocoa powder, and added cinnamon, and they tried everything separately and then together. I asked if they could tell me what the cocoa powder tasted like, and they said “bitter”. But also that it reminded them of brownies. Both are correct, and they felt like they were part of the process.
There is a one scent that really transports me. The scent after it rains—if I could mimic that scent then I could retire, but I hope I never get there.
For someone who grew up surrounded by nature, this one smell really takes me to a specific moment in time, and it’s such a strong, emotional memory.
People don’t smell enough. People need to focus, pause, and try to record how something smells and how they feel. It is something that is recorded on our hearts, and it’s impossible to erase.