Have you ever found yourself looking at the red pepper flakes in the stout, swirled, glass shaker on the table at the local pizza parlor and asked yourself, how long has this been sitting here? Typically it has no protective sealant with complete exposure to the elements, offers a minimal spice profile and the source…who knows. So why have the spices that we add on top of our gourmet foods gone unnoticed and without the same demand for quality?
Co-founders, Michael Chen and Matt Lenore, of FlatIron Spice Company pondered these very same questions as they made their weekly visits to their choice pie den, SliceWorks, in Denver. Discontent with the “bland, cardboard type pepper” available to put on top of the organic, wood-fired pizza, they concocted their own spice blends and began to bring them with. When other patrons took notice and started asking Chen and Lenore to share, they saw an entrepreneurial inlet and a culinary void that could use vast improvement.
“It’s one of those things that people overlook,” says Chen. “There’s so much innovation that goes on in food but it’s surprising that red pepper flakes haven’t changed. It’s a combination of the generic stuff being stale and then the peppers are mass produced. So by the time you take it out at the restaurant it’s dehydrated.”
Chen and Lenore set out to find domestic growers to source fresh peppers from and a processing facility willing to work with their start up.
“We are having a farm grow specific lots of our peppers,” says Chen. “It took a lot of convincing because we’re small time and they would prefer to choose bigger brands like McCormick so we had to sell them on what we wanted to do.”
FlatIron Spice Co. works with a processor out of Hatch Valley, New Mexico, and because the harvest season is shorter here in the U.S., Chen and Lenore insist on their product being made as locally as possible.
“It was incredibly hard to find chiles that weren’t roasted or already in a sauce so they had to make these flakes special for us,” says Chen.
FlatIron Spice Co. offers a red and green four pepper blend. The hatch valley green is made up of jalapeño, double cross, sandia and habanero chile flakes and measures in at a four out of ten on their heat chart. It has a moderate kick that we think is a perfect way to spice up a breakfast scramble.
The red blend consists of jalapeño, ghost pepper, cayenne pepper and habanero chile flakes and rates on the high side with seven out of ten on the heat scale. These are not the red pepper flakes you receive in a white packet adorned with an Italian flag from the old neighborhood spot. It packs some surprise and for most palates this rings in as noticeably hot. Aside from raising the bar as a traditional pizza sprinkling it can be an excellent accent to Asian inspired dishes. FlatIron advertises that their spices maintain the potent, fresh attributes for a 24-month shelf-life. Two new additions are currently in the development phase as the company continues to grow their line. A smokey, chipotle blend and a dried pesto, composed of basil flakes.
FlatIron Spice distributes to a network of different restaurants to include Low Down Brewery + Kitchen, Proto’s Pizzeria Napoletana, Hops & Pie, Blue Pan Pizza, Walter’s 303 Pizzeria and Publik House, Homegrown Tap & Dough, as well as their brainstorming stomping grounds at Slice Works. FlatIron just sent their first shipment to Alfalfa’s Market in Boulder and Louisville, with the hopes that their spices find their way into the aisles of more local retailers. But Chen and Lenore are specific about who their clientele is and choose to sell solely to establishments that have a family focus and value the artisanal elements.
“They tend to really care about the type of pizza they have and care more about what they put on top of it,” says Chen.
FlatIron Spice Co. wants to encourage businesses to switch by offering to match the cost of the current red pepper flakes they already use in-house.
“We’re going out to pizza places, restaurants and to farmers to talk to them about our product,” says Chen. “All the time and energy that goes into making great pizza, why not put the same effort into the spice? It’s like putting ketchup on a nice steak, there’s a bigger opportunity than that.”
*All product images courtesy of FlatIron Spice Company.