Ever gone into a local meat or seafood market, found the perfect cut or fish for tonight’s dinner, then realized you had no idea what to do with it? You decide to pick out one of their spice blends and hope for the best. But what if you could have some Greater Madison area restauranteurs and foodies design a spice specifically for the food you’re buying?
“I developed those for Berke and Benham. He did multiple tastings. So that’s for a fish boil or a shrimp boil. I took those as a jumping off point—”
“—And made it deliciouser.”
The above conversation between Patrick O’Halloran and Marcia Castro sums up the drive and philosophy of The Deliciouser—a collection of customized spice blends made to enhance everyone’s cooking, from the connoisseur of consommé to the architect of rubs to the boo of berry. But what do these longtime Madison food gurus (Patrick once the owner and head chef for Lombardino’s and Tipsy Cow, Marcia a partner at The Old Fashioned) bring to the table that isn’t already there?
A lot, actually.
Little backstory, Patrick and Marcia were once married. Now, not only are they business partners, but Patrick’s current wife, food and travel enthusiast Michelle Oyamada, is also a partner of The Deliciouser along with Michelle’s daughter-in-law, Anne Oyamada. This charm-bracelet connection actually serves as more than a late night who’s who of Madison trivia answer. Each person represents a different tier of chef, and their palates are distinct from one another.
What comes out the other end of that funnel is a unique collection of spice blends that showcase every one of their favorite flavors. As Marcia says, “The common denominator is we all love to eat. We travel for food.”
The pandemic brought a lot of people back to eating more at home, including everyone at The Deliciouser. This wasn’t a planned venture. During the pandemic, Patrick fell back in love with what he’d lost from being a chef for so long: experiencing a meal from beginning to end with the ones he loves. He admits he never cooked at home while he was a professional chef, instead dining out. Marcia says, “I think a big part of it was when we were doing it, it really brought a lot of joy. We were having fun. We were cooking and trying things—that sprit had been lost for a while.”
That creative and bonding environment is what they envisioned bringing to everyone’s kitchen. They wanted to make spices that were great tasting but not intimidating. Something you can use with a dish you already make that might just make you love it that much more. And the smell of some of these spice blends—“Our jars are this passport to these places,” says Anne.
I think it’s about time to address the salty elephant in the room. Not that kind of salty. Like yummy salty. There is another spice game in town, so how does The Deliciouser distinguish itself? “Penzeys is a great shop,” says Patrick. “We love it. But when you come to The Deliciouser’s new kitchen studio, you get a glass of wine, a cup of coffee, and a lesson on how to actually cook and taste the spice blends in a meal.”
Marcia says, “The concept of this kitchen studio space is in addition to the teaching, even for dinners. It’s a small enough space that people can learn; they can talk. For us, it’s opening our doors. Welcome. We want to know our customers. We want them to ask questions.”
One thing that I noticed is that even for an amateur like myself, all it takes is a smell of a spice blend to start imagining what I can do with it. Normally, I don’t like to get fancy in fear I’d screw up whatever I was working with. Stick to the recipe. Not to sound too much like an infomercial, but with The Deliciouser’s spices, I don’t feel that same pressure.
Maybe it’s the freshness from them toasting and grinding all their blends. Patrick notes that for major spice companies, like those you find at the grocery store, they’re just buying their ingredients in bulk and mixing tons of salt and sugar into their blends. Patrick likes the size of The Delciouser because it allows him to focus on “the hand-curated aspect of spices.”
The result is more-authentic flavors, which is the only way to really get the flavors from the regions they love. Bomba is a Calabrian Chilean blend that’s southern Italian with chilies. You can just throw it into a tomato sauce to up your spaghetti game. Then there’s Antica.
“What is Antica?” says Patrick. “If you smell that, it’s just beautiful. It’s all the most ancient spices that the European fleets went to the Far East to get. It’s nutmeg and mace and cinnamon and black pepper. It’s a more adult version of pumpkin pie.”
Michelle likes to keep things much simpler. Misoyaki, as mentioned above, is for fish, but Michelle says, “It’s really good on vanilla ice cream with some pistachcios.” In fact, when offering samples of their spices at markets and events, they simply sprinkle the blends over popcorn.
To get to know Patrick, Marcia, Michelle, and Anne better, I recommend visiting their website, thedeliciouser.com. They have a great story in their “About” section. You’ll also find thorough descriptions of their spices along with recommendations on what to use the spices with. I’ve already made a few steaks with different blends and done some experimenting with what the different blends bring out in the meat. Just to beat the drum one more time, I’ll leave you with their tagline: Spice blends for all cooks, from the culinary curious to the well seasoned.
The Deliciouser’s production facility and tasting room will be open sometime this autumn.
Kyle Jacobson is lead writer and senior copy editor for Madison Essentials.