q & a with chef ben bebenroth

Luckily, there are a lot of chefs (and more catching on each day) in our area that practice farm-to-fork and celebrate Ohio’s farmers with their daily creations. One of those chefs, a true devotee of all things local and thus our local economy, is Chef Ben Bebenroth of Spice of Life Catering.

1. What are the top 5 spices every home chef should have? Sea salt, coriander, cumin, black pepper, chilies and cinnamon.

2. What is your favorite and least favorite thing to make? Favorite is ravioli for sure. I love making pasta and fillings with layers of flavors. Least favorite is anything in the microwave, even though I do it all the time.

3. What is your favorite thing about Cleveland and what drives you nuts? The best part about Cleveland is that the people around you, at one time or another, have taken their lumps – real people, down to earth eaters. I like that. No jokes but were still laughing, you know?

4. If you could cook for one person, real or dead, who would it be? My little one, Sydney Bloom. She’s only 16 months, but when you feed her something new and she loves it, her eyes could light up a room. Cooking for her is so cool because she wants to see it all happen. It’s like having the most attentive student ever.

5. You’re having a dinner party, top 5 songs on your play list? Definitely some Coltrane, Morphine, Jazzy, Beastie Boys, Beck and Maggot Brain.

6. Favorite restaurant in Cleveland? The Flying Fig

7. What restaurant do you miss? Charleston Chops, Charleston S.C. Chef Jeff Gibbs. I learned a ton in that place.

8. What hidden gem / café have Clevelanders yet to discover? Chef’s Choice Meats in Berea on West St. Kris Kreiger is a friend of mine and a hell of a butcher. His dry cured sausages are the best in town. In fact, you’ll have a hard time finding anything like his anywhere around here.

9. What’s your last meal on Earth? Fried mush, maple syrup, Amish bacon and black coffee in a log cabin far away from the sound of tires on pavement.

10. Most unusual food you have ever tried? Jelly fish – not for me.

11. Most famous person you have cooked for? Aussie, ambassador ’05, and Scooter Libby, same dinner. Fame by default.

12. Why do you feel so passionate about supporting local farms/farmers? It’s a mix really of a little Greenpeace, a little Robin Hood and a big shot of quality. I believe in our power to change our food system by focused boycotts and directing your dollar locally right into the pocket of your neighbor. I want people to realize the benefits of eating fresh, seasonal food for their health, but at the same time for the health of the world by shortening the distance your food has to travel, and the energy it consumes. That message is the same one that can give the government-funded corporate food giants the kick in the pants they deserve. I feel so strongly about this because the food we grow here is better than the food they grow there. Know why? Because it is already here, get it. I’d like to say that I helped take a little change out of the pocket of General Mills and put it in the pockets of Monica Bongue, or Marc Welton, or Tom Wiandt, or Cara Rabenolt. I’m not trying to rattle off farmers like a resume, but rather prove the point that the food we are using at Spice Of Life has a face and family in front of it, not a bar code. There is a great community of local food supporters in the food and beverage circles of Cleveland. I love seeing how many different ways all the chefs in town can utilize the same seasonal ingredients – it’s almost as if the season and the selection sets the bar for the palette of foods to choose from and then the chef takes those flavors is the real fun. I love catching up with folks and hearing about what they have been making in the restaurant and at home. It always keeps you thinking.

13. What local farms do you visit regularly? Killbuck, Deer Run, Crown Point, Sarah’s Vineyard and Whitehouse Gardens

14. If you weren’t a chef, what would you be doing? Snowboarding – just living in a mountain town working the lift or something. That’s something I’ve always wanted to do. Just have a no brainer job for the season pass and ride when it’s great. Maybe write a few recipes on the weekends when the lift lines get long.

15. What do you want people to know about Spice of Life? We just want to feed good food to good people, that’s all.