Seeking the world’s best teas, spices and blends for a quarter century.
Épices de Cru is a family-owned tea and spice company based in Montreal. Our goal is to provide only the highest quality whole spices and loose leaf teas, made with respect to both the traditions of producers and the needs of our customers. We believe all the knowledge we need to cook delicious food easily and sustainably is contained within the world’s cultures- we just need to make the connections.
We are what we eat
· We believe that spices and teas are like wine, the best grow in special places and many have yet to be discovered.
· We love to travel the world and meet people.
· We choose our spices and our teas with our noses.
· We source most of our spices directly from the best plantations and producers in the world – one day we’ll get them all this way.
· We “get” the word terroir, not only because we speak French but because of what it means – growing conditions and know-how.
· We are in awe of people who respect their food traditions – they are the caretakers of the world’s flavors.
· We believe in fairness to our growers, our employees and our customers.
· We are happy to share our recipes with friends and customers.
· We are even happier when friends and customers share their recipes with us.
· We learn to make our spice blends by observing people who respect their traditions.
· We give credit when and where it is due.
· We fill all and stamp most of our spice and tea containers by hand.
· We know that metal containers are the best way to preserve the full flavor of most spices and teas.
· We believe that whole spices should be ground just before using – that’s the gateway to the world of spices.
· We will try anything once.
· We are convinced that food cooked over an open flame tastes better.
· We love eating with our hands.
· We know that if people shared good tea and tasty food we could all have world peace for dessert.
Ethné, Philippe, Marika & Arik de Vienne – supported by Nadia, Eric, Renée, Jocelyn, Guillaume, Valérie, Steve, Varsha, Marie-Pier, Dashi, Benjamin, Georgia, Noelline, Jeanne, Gabriel, Suba, Oksana, Julien-Pier, Etienne and Alexandre.
In the beginning…
Épices de Cru began in 1982 as a catering partnership between Philippe and Ethné de Vienne. The husband and wife team felt that Montreal’s caterers were not living up to the city’s reputation as a culinary destination. Too much catered food was made ahead of time and in bulk, reheated later, and served with near disdain for the customer. The question was: how can we make large amounts of food, prepared in the constricted kitchen spaces of people’s homes, museum loading docks, and tents in the countryside, that is still fresh, delicious, and à la minute?
The answer came from Philippe and Ethné’s world travels: learn from great, ancient food cultures like Mexico, India, and Indonesia, who famously provide opulent wedding feasts without the aid of modern equipment or European-influenced kitchen management. Their mission became a kind of “cooking pot anthropology:” learning the secrets of family cooking around the world and applying these techniques to the needs of hungry Montrealers.
Turns out the big secret was spices. Quality spice blends allowed them to make delicious food simply. Again, the de Viennes looked in dismay at the sorry state of spices in North America at the end of the 20th century. Spices had become a frustrating affair for many home cooks: heavily adulterated, difficult to use, and marketed by large companies with little interest in clearing up confusion. Clearly the budding spice merchants would have to take matters into their own hands.
Travel, learn, repeat!
Over the last two decades, Philippe and Ethné, often accompanied by their children, Marika and Arik, have traversed the globe searching for the world’s best spices. Their success comes from listening to the people in each region they visit. It’s the local cooks, not the businesspeople, who know where the best spices are grown and how they should be used. They strongly believe in direct sourcing spices: going to the growing regions, spending time with the growers, and developing personal relationships that last decades. In this way, most of the business is done in the kitchen!
Bringing whole spices to the people
In 2004, the de Viennes officially retired from catering and opened their first spice shop in Montreal’s Jean-Talon Market. It was followed closely by their second store, dedicated to international cooking products and tea. Marika began her loose leaf tea business in 2006, while Arik began designing culinary ceramics in 2012. The family finally unified the three branches with the opening of their new store in 2015.
Education is the de Viennes’ new frontier. They have published four cookbooks on the use of spices in cooking, including the Taste of Canada award-winning Golden Rules of Spices. They also produced their own TV series for the CBC, Chasseurs d’Épices. Épices de Cru has also started a spice cooking school, run by Philippe and Arik, and tea classroom, headed by Marika.
They steadfastly maintain that there is nothing original about their business. They are simply middlemen in time and space, bringing common sense approaches to cooking from around the world and in history. The wisdom we need to create a food system that is fair and sustainable already exists in the combined experience of the world’s cooks. We just need to talk to each other about it.
Ethné Grimes-de Vienne
Ethné was born in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, and came to Montréal as a youngster. She went on to enjoy a successful career as a fashion model in Canada and Europe. In 1994, she retired from modelling and joined forces with Philippe in their catering business. As an event planner and hostess, Ethné coordinated the ever-expanding and culturally diverse array of events that the company became famous for. As the original spice huntress, she went on to design the blueprint that characterizes the complex web of international, personal and professional relationships that define the company today. She continues to guest on various food and lifestyle shows, while continuing to fulfill her myriad responsibilities as one half of the company’s public face.
Philippe de Vienne
Philippe de Vienne was born in Montréal and grew up between France and Québec. He began cooking at a young age and received formal training as a saucier at the Ritz-Carlton. However, he felt stifled by the rigidity of haute cuisine in the 1970’s and set out to define his own cooking style. After two years of cooking at resorts in the Yucatan with Mayan cooks, he returned to make his fortune and win the hand of the lady Ethné. Together, they built Philippe de Vienne Catering into one of Montréal’s most revered culinary institutions. Over the decades, Philippe gained a reputation for expertise in less well-known cuisines and cooking techniques, from the Caribbean to the Orient to the Middle East, and made appearances on cooking shows on every network in Quebec. As the head honcho for Épices de Cru, Philippe spends most of his time catching up with spice producers, advising young cooks on the use of spices, and of course cooking for friends, family, and staff. He and his wife still make each spice blend by hand.
Marika de Vienne
Marika de Vienne was born in Montréal and grew up with caterers for parents. She assisted her father in the kitchen from a young age, and worked her way to head waitress of the company years later. After a few years of working in retail, she helped her parents design and implement the family’s first international food store, La Dépense. Eager to start her own adventure, she left for China to explore her lifelong passion for tea in 2007. She lived, traveled, and (of course) drank tea before returning to Montréal in 2012. Now she travels between the office and store as both the head of the Épices de Cru’s tea branch and next generation spice hunter. She is also learning the family’s hundred plus spice blend recipes from her parents.
Arik de Vienne
Arik de Vienne was born in Montréal and grew up working in the family business. Working as waiter, dishwasher, and sous chef, Arik developed a keen sense for all things cooking. He studied literature and art at the Université de Montreal, but it was after graduating in 2009 that he fell in love with ceramics. After years of apprenticing with some of Montréal’s most well-known ceramists, he began selling his own handmade ceramics in 2012. Today, he supplies Épices de Cru with its plates, cups, bowls, and teaware. Always eager to expand and share his knowledge of food, he has traveled the province lecturing on spice cooking. He now heads the company’s education division, overseeing classes and seminars on spices and cooking.