Mr. Recipe: a nondescript figure behind the scenes Photo: Melissa Hom
“If the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted,” Jesus asks in Matthew’s Gospel, and we have to agree: Spices need to bring it in the kitchen, or they shouldn’t be used at all. So when New York’s top chefs want to max out their flavor, they usually turn to the mysterious individual named Mr. Recipe, a one-man spice emporium who supplies the city’s chefs with enormous vanilla beans from Sulawesi and Madagascar, Tellicherry extra-extra-bold black pepper, Ugandan mace, and more. “I’ve learned a lot from him,” says Mark Ladner of Del Posto. Mr. Recipe handles over a hundred spices, but he started out in the vanilla business, and that’s still his calling card: “He procures the very best vanilla beans, extremely intense. He also has a wonderful ground vanilla bean that is perfect for gelato,” says Alto’s Michael White. (Sam Mason of Tailor is also a huge fan.)
Mr. Recipe, whose real name is Aaron Isaacson, worked in La Côte Basque and the Russian Tea Room, and later consulted at Windows on the World. His background as a cook, mixed with evangelistic approach to flavor, speaks to like-minded chefs. “The three words I live by,” he tells us, “are — and listen to them carefully because they are the most important words in the world — ‘volatile oil content.’ Flavor resides in the oil. That is the key to understanding spices.” Or is his waxed mustache the source of this wisdom?