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Spice Islands visit piqued Tim Ziegler's flavorful career

Spicy recipes from Tim Ziegler

By Karen Mitchell
Camera Staff Writer

At 41, Tim Ziegler may be the only former Marine tank commander in the spice business. Ziegler is president of Colorado Spice, Inc., a Boulder culinary company brokering spices, by the ton, to restaurants and through food distributors. The company does business in this region as well as in the Carolinas, Georgia, and Chicago. With about 2,500 products, including specialty blends and whole spices, Colorado Spices most popular products include its Balsamic Chicken Rub with toasted garlic and paprika, the rosemary-spiked Prime Rib Seasoning, and Canadian Steak Seasoning with coriander, cumin, and "secret spices."

Ziegler, who lives in Lincoln, Nebraska, is the quintessential commuter, spending about one week per month in Boulder. "I love this business, and I enjoy the fact that I'm not pigeon-holed into the kitchen," he says. Ziegler recently shared the details of his personal history in this spicy pursuit.

A rising star : "I was raised in Denver, where my parents, Ellwood and Bonnie Ziegler owned the Star Market, a deli and grocery on East Evans, across from the University of Denver campus. My dad was a baker and a butcher. Now the market is owned by my sister and brother-in-law, Tina and Michael Schettler. I grew up cooking because my parents were always at work, and if I wanted to eat, I had to cook. I made a lot of vegetables — frozen broccoli, and nothing challenging. I did grilled cheese and popcorn. In high school, my parents would bring home leftovers from the meat case, steaks and burgers, and I'd cook those."

Harvest moon:

"I loved Asian food, even as a kid. Whenever I got to choose the restaurant for a family dinner out, I picked my favorite, the Harvest Moon Terrace on Colorado Blvd. It was a 1950-60s-style Oriental restaurant with Americanized-Chinese dishes — sub gum, chow mein, and sukiyaki."

East is east:

"I went to college at Oregon State University on a Navy ROTC scholarship, and majored in Southeast Asian history. I knew I'd be going into the Marines and would be in Asia. I was reading books like 'The Ugly American' and 'Sarkan.'"

Anchors o' bread:

"My first cruise as a midshipman was while I was still in college. It was on a fast frigate and it's crew included a baker named Robbie Stuhl. I worked for him, and he made the best bread I've ever had. He taught me to bake."

Market walks:

"After graduation I lived in Asia with the Marine Corps for about three years, with Japan as my main base. Wherever I went — Bangkok, Hong Kong — I'd walk along and go through the spice markets. I always managed to talk my way into the restaurant kitchens and take pictures."

The few, the proud, the mess: " When I was stationed on the USS Blue Ridge, we would host diplomatic functions for embassy staff. I wound up running the officer's wardroom mess. We had a wonderful baker onboard that ship, too, a guy who made great doughnuts. I'd be up at 2 a.m. helping him, even though I was an officer."

Ports of cloves:

"We traveled through the Spice Islands and the Philippines. I remember that in Penang, Malaysia, we were riding in a small pickup to go on liberty when I noticed that the trees were lined up perfectly. It was a clove plantation. They have the finest cloves in the world there, along with Sri Lanka. They're beautiful with an intense flavor. I saw mountains of them in the markets."

To Culinary School:

"When I got out of the Marine Corps in '86, I couldn't decide on a master's program. Everyone thought I should open a restaurant, so I went to chef's school and graduated from Western Culinary Institute in Portland. There was a small company there that supplied spices to the school, and I knew there was none like it in Colorado."

Spice of his own: "I returned to Colorado and opened a seafood restaurant (for the owner) in Denver, and I started the spice company, also in Denver, in 1990. I started out by buying five pounds of black pepper, and other spices, through smaller importers and through the Whole Herb in San Francisco. We sold to a lot of restaurants in Boulder including Laudisio, the Harvest, the Walnut Cafe, Rudi's and John's. We were mixing our own blends, and we sold tons of Cajun blend to Boulder customers as well as paprika, and salt-free blends. In fact, our Cajun blend was sugar and salt-free."

On to Boulder: " I sold Colorado Spice in March '96 to American Outdoors Products which also owns Backpacker's Pantry and PlanetaryGEAR. The offices and blending rooms are in Gunbarrel. I stayed onboard as president of Colorado Spice. I'm also the corporate chef for Backpacker's Pantry: Your Backcountry Bistro, which does pre-packaged outdoor meals. They were already a customer of ours. I do their flavor and recipe development, spending about two months a year on it. We've done a Tuscan Beef Pasta that's very popular, and Katmandu Curry."

Getting spicy: "What we sell a lot in Boulder are whole spices and in particular blends. Boulder chefs also like to grind whole spices themselves. We don't sell a lot of seasonings and salts in this market. We deal with high-end restaurants such as the Flagstaff House, Laudisio, the Med, Jax, Zolo and Rhumba, and Treppeda's Market Cafe in Niwot."

One tea:

"We do one tea, Passion Fruit. One of our stockholders, Brian Keating of the Sage Group in Seattle, is a tea expert. He developed it for us. It's a blend of premium black teas and passion fruit essence."

World market:

"We buy spices from all over the world as well as domestically. We deal with smaller growers for items such as domestic onions, garlic, chilies and paprika. Spice usage is being dictated more and more by the melting pot of American cuisines such as Southwestern, but also by authentic ethnic cuisines from Asia, the Caribbean and Mexico. We're a well-traveled society. Spice usage has gone through the roof, with a 350-percent increase in hot spices consumption since 1988. That includes chilies, black and white pepper and mustard."

Big trends: "I see a lot more Caribbean spices such as chilies, allspice, nutmeg, mace, thyme and oregano. Cardamom is more in use with the with the popularity of chai."

A favorite:

"Ginger is my favorite spice — I put it in sorbet."

Good advice:

"Spices need to be kept away from heat, light and moisture. Using a jar is good, a rack above the oven is not good. Keep them where you can use them easily. The frig is bad — moisture brings out the molds, especially with herbs. Spices can be frozen, but frozen herbs tend to go black. You can grow yourself and dry them, bunching them like you would roses, and then tying them and hanging them to dry. Use them the rest of the year. I always grind them in the palm of my hand."

Price of spice:

"Black pepper prices will stay high because it comes from India and Indonesia, the crises points in the world. Indonesia, in major turmoil, is a source for cinnamon, Yugoslavia for sage, marjoram, coriander and oregano. There is some cardamom from Guatemala, but Hurricane Mitch hurt that industry."

At the speed of spice:

"I have two exciting projects in the works from Ten Speed Press. The first is a book about spices, herbs and seasoning blends, with photos of d whole herbs and spices. We also did an spice art poster similar to Ten Speed's well-known chili poster."

Favorite dining:

"My favorite dining spots in the Boulder area are Treppeda's, Laudisio, and Illegal Pete's. Pete's does a great three taco combo, or, if I'm being good, two tacos, a mix of chicken and beef with medium salsa."

All-garlic eats:

"One of my favorites is the Stinking Rose in San Francisco. They do everything with garlic. I like their paella and their garlic ice cream."

Service peeve: "The Zagat guide once remarked that Denver restaurants had amiable but incompetent service, and that's how it is in most restaurants these days. The server will say, 'Hi, I'm your server but I don't know anything about the menu or the food.' One of the finest meals I've had was in a seafood restaurant in San Francisco in which the older waiter introduced himself and asked us why we were there, what the occasion was. Then he guided us through a meal to match that occasion and our tastes — that made the evening wonderful."

Chez Tim:

"I cook a lot at home in Lincoln, where my wife, Sheryl and I have two kids, 16 and 7. I do a lot of stir fry and lo mein."

Fantasy meal:

"I'd love to take my whole family to Hong Kong, to have brunch in top of the Furama Hotel."

Consumers may order Colorado Spice products though its catalogue, 1-800 273-5082. The Web site is

April 12, 2000 | Print this page

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