Cover Do you have these chef-approved spice cabinet essentials? (Photo: Marion Botella / Unsplash)

Can you guess the one spice that all chefs swear by?

Just as you can tell a lot about a scholar from their bookcase, we at Tatler Dining believe that there is much to learn about a cook from their pantry. Curious about what Rhea Rizzo, Robby Goco, Enrique Moreno, and Heny Sison had to say, we wanted to learn what these four chefs consider their three spice cabinet must-haves, and two of their favourites they wish more people appreciated (excluding salt and pepper, though one chef felt quite strongly about the former!).

Whether you’re a newbie in the kitchen keen to learn from the pros or an experienced gastronome wanting to get a peek into the inner workings of these chefs’ minds, you’re sure to pick up a thing or two from these culinary talents. Before you scroll—can you guess which spice family was the unanimous favourite?

Hint: what’s ground, hot, and red all over?

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Rhea Rizzo

Rhea Rizzo is the chef-owner behind private dining concept Mrs. Saldo’s in Silang, Cavite.

What are your three spice cabinet must-haves?

  1. Coriander seed: it’s such a versatile spice. You can layer flavours in Asian, North American, South American, and even European dishes with it. You can use it in your pickling liquid, or as a flavouring agent in curing meats and goes also well with gamey meat such as duck. It has a lemony-citrus taste to it that lifts up rich curry sauces. I love using it in my marinades and coconut-based dishes.

  2. Paprika: again, going back to versatility. This is another spice that blends well in many types of cuisine. I like using a combination of sweet and smoked paprika both for colour and flavour. I love adding it to my red stews and into my Creole dishes for that jolt of smokiness and beautiful toasted red colour.

  3. Cardamom: a spice that can be used in both savoury and sweet dishes. It has a very distinctive taste that lends well to many Asian cuisines. I’ve learned to appreciate layering flavours, and buying your spices whole [then] roasting them before grinding really is well worth the effort. I would say that I use this spice as much as I use cumin and coriander. It’s a major component in our best-seller, Thai fish curry.

See also: Meet Mrs Saldo’s: The Eclectic Restaurant in Silang, Cavite That’s Fully Booked Until May

What are two underrated spice cabinet gems that you wish people utilised more?

  1. Cloves: because it’s a heady spice, a lot of people are hesitant to use it—plus I think people see it as a winter spice like cinnamon. But then again, it’s used a lot in many warm and tropical countries like India, Malaysia, and Indonesia. When utilised well, it is such a wonderful addition. Rumour has it that people who were given access to speak with the emperors in Ancient China were required to chew one clove before even stepping into the room. At least that’s what our tour guide shared with us. 

  2. Chipotle: this is something I used to hoard whenever we fly to the US. It’s still a bit difficult to find here in Manila, but I do get lucky sometimes. The smokiness that you get from it is not the same smokiness as what you get from smoked paprika. I’ve also learnt that a little dose adds a “meaty” taste to vegan dishes. I use this in my vegan “neat” balls.

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Robby Goco

Robby Goco is a chef and restaurateur best known for Cyma, Souv!, and Green Pastures among other successful ventures.

What are your three spice cabinet must-haves?

  1. Greek oregano is one of the few herbs that are better dried. I learned to use this during my first travel to Greece. It’s a staple of Greek cuisine, used in braised, fried, grilled, roasted, and even salad dishes. It is fantastic with feta,  local white cheese, and extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO). It proves its versatility because it can enhance the flavour of seafood, vegetables, and meat, especially lamb.

    You can use it to cook or finish a dish. It comes alive when mixed with lemon. It can also be used for Mexican and Italian cuisine.

  2. Paprika: smoked, sweet, and hot. I use it in my gumbo, Filipino dishes with tomato sauce, and Spanish and Mediterranean dishes. This spice is also versatile and brings other ingredients to life. You can mix it with your choice of breading for fried foods. It’s a good addition when marinating seafood, or [used] as a garnish.

    To finish a dish, mix the smoked paprika with flakey salt. Use the spicy one for Cajun and Mexican food—sweet paprika, I sprinkle on eggs. I basically collect paprika!

  3. Star anise is something I add to braised items, particularly tomato, soy/vinegar and natural meat-based dishes. I like it in my spaghetti bolognese too. It lets your umami-heavy sauces sparkle. Just don’t forget to remove it, so guests will be left guessing what your secret ingredient is. Also good in gin tonic with pink peppercorns.

See also: Elevate Your Everyday Family Meals: Tips and Recipes From Robby and Aliza Apostol-Goco

What are two underrated spice cabinet gems that you wish people utilised more?

  1. A good XO sherry vinegar is something I use to finish and lift the flavour of many dishes and sauces: I even use it in my bulalo and many traditional Filipino stews.

  2. EVOO! Another Greek cuisine staple. It’s commonly used to finish Mediterranean dishes, but you can cook with it too. Try frying your sunnyside-up eggs or frozen French fries in EVOO.

I know salt isn’t supposed to be mentioned, but I’m very particular with my salt. Not all salts are created equal. In my restaurants and at home, I use customized speciality sea salts from Pangasinan: flakey sea salt for my finishing salt; fine flakes for my cooking, pre-cooking and marinating requirements; and micro-flakes for pre-grilling seafood, steaks, and vegetables. It sticks to the food but does not melt easily. You'll have tiny explosions of flavour in your mouth...delicious!

See also: Bohol’s Asin Tibuok: Protecting the Culinary Heritage of the Philippines Through Salt

Enrique Moreno

Enrique Moreno is the chef-owner behind the Asian-European restaurant Mijo Comfort Food in Poblacion.

What are your three spice cabinet must-haves?

  1. Pimenton is my go-to for Spanish-inspired dishes. I use this for my homemade chorizo, which is used in a lot of my dishes at Mijo. I also use pimenton generously in my dishes, such as paellas and the other dishes I want to add smokiness to.
  2. Five-spice is my go-to for pork and duck dishes in Mijo. It’s a great combination with these meats.

  3. Cumin is my lamb flavour enhancer. I think it elevates lamb flavour and it is such a distinct spice that everyone associates with Middle Eastern and Indian dishes. I use this spice often with vegetables too.

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What are two underrated spice cabinet gems that you wish people utilised more?

  1. Bay leaves for us [Filipinos] only go in our adobo, but what people don’t know is that it is crucial for stocks, to make stew, sauces, brines, etc. It is a flavour we take for granted.

  2. Dried chilli/chilli flakes are not just an ingredient that gives heat to a dish, I feel. Most of the time, it makes dishes more round. It can be exciting and is essential in a lot of cuisines.

See also: What Are the Differences Between Indian and Persian Cuisine?

Heny Sison

Heny Sison is the chef, restaurateur, and educator behind the Spanish restaurant Deo Gracias in Quezon City and Heny Sison Culinary School.

What are your three spice cabinet must-haves?

  1. Garlic powder: if I am in a hurry to cook, using garlic powder comes in handy because peeling garlic takes time. It is also a good flavour enhancer. Adding a small amount will enhance the flavour profile of a dish.
  2. Laurel, either the leaf or the powder: laurel, being one of the ingredients of the most popular dish in the Philippines, is a must in my pantry. Not only do I have the dried version, but I also grow laurel in my garden and at the potted garden of Deo Gracias, a Spanish restaurant we opened last November of 2021.

  3. Saffron: I always stock saffron in my spice cabinet because my family loves paella. Saffron is an essential ingredient of paella. Though the taste is subtle, it is fragrant, giving the dish a luxurious and mysterious yet recognizable taste. I prefer the thread form to the powder form. I find the powdered form somewhat starchy.

See also: Deo Gracias Takes Diners On A Gastronomic Trip To Spain

What are two underrated spice cabinet gems that you wish people utilised more?

  1. Pimenton: when I want to give my dish an earthy, complex, orange to reddish colour, and smokey flavour, I add a pinch or so of pimenton.

  2. Cinnamon sticks: I always keep cinnamon sticks in my spice cabinet because they keep longer and are more potent than the powdered form. It is also great to infuse in dessert sauces, ice cream bases, food, or drink. I like it because I can easily remove the stick once I get the right taste. I also use a cinnamon stick as a stirrer for my coffee or tea. There is this comforting feeling whenever I smell the aroma of cinnamon in my kitchen. I always relate it to Christmas and my family gathering around in our kitchen eagerly waiting for my freshly baked cinnamon rolls or raisin bread.

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