Months ago, during the faux winter of 2012, Ben Bebenroth was grappling with a dilemma. It was New Year’s Eve, and there were two seatings planned at Spice Kitchen and Bar. It was a test run for his new Cleveland restaurant, officially opening three weeks later.
He was struggling with what to wear for the event. Should he go with chef ’s whites, his uniform for the past 12 years? Or would a suit be better, signifying his role as entrepreneur and head of a rapidly expanding multifaceted food-focused business venture?
He went with the chef’s coat, affirming that he intends to stay hands-on and close to what’s happening in the kitchen. Now that spring’s arrived, he’s just as likely to be found in jeans with muddy knees after a few hours of digging in the garden.
Last fall, Bebenroth, a former Marine, full-time family man and nature lover since childhood, took over a building at the corner of Detroit and West 58th Street to house the casual restaurant where simple and seasonal shapes the menu, and serve as mission control for a collection of other, related endeavors that together express his commitment to using fresh, sustainably raised, local ingredients and educating the public about the value and deliciousness of eating this way.
In addition to sourcing from area growers, he’s launching Spice Acres to oversee his own agricultural efforts: a 10,000-squarefoot plot at his home equipped with high tunnels to extend its growing season and yield; an area behind the restaurant’s parking lot that will be under cultivation starting this spring; and all the planters and raised beds that will soon turn the patio into an edible landscape.
His thriving catering company, Spice of Life, which is also responsible for farmers market food stands, will operate out of this location too. A small shop in a connected storefront, offering local products and prepared dishes, is scheduled to open later in 2012.
The ambitious undertaking wasn’t on the agenda a year ago.
Back then Bebenroth was just looking to move his 6-yearold catering company into a bigger facility. “But,” he says, “this incredible opportunity fell in our lap. The space became available unexpectedly, and I realized it was perfect for all the things I’d been dreaming about doing.”
It wouldn’t be possible, he insists, without Andy Strizak, an accomplished chef and longtime proponent of a madefrom- scratch cuisine rooted in the best of what’s grown and raised in Northeast Ohio, who signed on as director of operations, and Executive Chef Brandon Walukus, a Culinary Institute of America grad who has worked with Ben for three years.
It’s a lot of change, fast. But one thing that will stay the same is Spice’s popular Plated Landscape Dinner series. These fine-dining feasts, prepared and served in meadows, barns and urban gardens since 2005, are what first brought Bebenroth attention. The meals always feature products from the host venue and guests are often enlisted to help harvest or go foraging for what ends up on their plates. Bebenroth hopes the experience gives participants a new respect for small family farms—for the work required to bring us good, clean food and a deeper appreciation of the land it comes from. Six to eight events are planned for this season, from June through October.
In all his endeavors, old and new, Bebenroth is pursuing a single goal, the same one that’s motivated him from the very beginning of his culinary career: to transform “farm to table” from a mere idea into a memorable, meaningful, mouthwatering experience.
Get info and make Plated Landscape reservations at spiceheadquarters.com.