Ben Stevens, a wide-smiled and dreadlocked former bluesman, believes cooking should be easy, food should be fresh and you shouldn’t have to sacrifice time or flavor to eat well. But he also believes that one of the biggest obstacles to eating fresh, healthful food at home is the lure of the high levels of sodium and fat found in prepared foods and take-out. It’s his personal mission to get people back into their kitchens, cooking healthfully with friends and family, using his new line of seasoning blends called Wildly Natural One.
All natural, low sodium, gluten- and MSG-free, the seasoning blends come in four varieties (Original, Fiery, Salt-Free Select and Salt-Free Spicy) and can be used to enhance everything from fish and meats to quick salad dressings. “It’s like a rub, condiment and spice cabinet all in one jar,” says Stevens.
The power of spices and herbs was first revealed to Stevens when he was apprenticing under a Jamaican seasoning master years ago. “Once I started learning from him about all the colors of the spices and herb world, that’s when I learned how to make the blends I have now,” he says. Stevens studied the food science of various spices and herbs—trying to unlock one blend that would be extremely versatile.
“I tried it on every different food I could think of …fish, tomatoes, hummus. I tweaked it until it worked for all of them. It was painstaking; it took me years.”
After finding the right balance for his first blend, Stevens sent samples to family and friends and asked them to use it the way he had—on everything they could get their hands on. “I realized some of my friends would want something with a little more zing,” he says, “so I created the Fiery mix next.” Stevens then set out to create sodium-free blends—starting with completely new spice combinations. “But they’re not simply a no-salt version of the original,” he says. “They have lemon thyme, basil and other components that give them versatility without sodium.”
Wildly Natural One blends are produced according to Stevens’s exacting standards. He has heirloom peppers grown in Colombia from a seed stock he hunted down in the Caribbean, and he sources exotic spices, like Jamaican allspice and Himalayan pink sea salt, directly from farmers—mostly in the U.S. (for garlic, green onions and fresh herbs), but also in Costa Rica, South America, the Caribbean and Africa—while practicing what he calls, “fairer than Fair Trade,” or by paying above market value. The spices and peppers are custom dried and milled either by the farmers themselves or at family-owned Southern Style Spices in Manor.
Already gaining momentum after less than a year on the market, Wildly Natural One blends were picked up by Wheatsville Food Co-op in June, and were just approved to be sold at 22 Whole Foods Market stores. Customers seem to be enjoying the new opportunities the blends present, too. Recently, Stevens heard from a woman who had clandestinely taken his spices with her to her favorite restaurant on the east side. She put the spicy Fiery blend on her chocolate ice cream and loved it. “Now I can honestly say it makes everything taste better,” Stevens says with a smile. —Terrence Henry
For recipe suggestions, or for more information about Wildly Natural One blends, visit wildlyone.com.