In My Kitchen: Mike & Janet Johnston, Co-Owners, Savory Spice Shop

October 2010

Three years working in Chicago’s retail spice industry left Mike Johnston with the realization of how little people understand the power of spices. In 2002, Mike and his wife, Janet, decided to make it their mission to expand home cooks’ spice knowledge. After considering several cities, they fell in love with Denver and opened Savory Spice’s flagship on Platte Street in 2004. The Johnstons now own four shops in the metro area. The Johnstons also caught the attention of the Food Network, which offered the couple a six-episode pilot.

Cast Iron Chef Mike, the cook of the house, prefers Le Creuset cast iron pots and pans. “Cast iron cooks better and more evenly,” he says

Consolation Prize The Food Network may not have picked up the Johnstons’ “Spice & Easy” show—though they did air six episodes—but Janet still got to keep the Kramer knife set the production company gave her. The Food Network also outfitted the couple’s kitchen with a new stovetop and refrigerator.

Grow Your Own Because Mike loves mushrooms, Janet bought him a Shiitake Mushroom Mini-Farm. “It wasn’t easy to pull this off,” Janet says. “I had to have it shipped the night before his birthday because it had to be kept damp and humid in a plastic bag.” www.farwestfungi.com

Just Java Mike and Janet make locally roasted Coda coffee every morning in a French press. “It’s not because we’re snobs,” Janet says. “It’s because somehow we end up breaking every coffee machine we have.”

Some Like It Hot Because Mike likes it hot and Janet prefers more mild spices, he serves many meals with a “coordinating hot condiment” so he can add heat to his portion only. He uses sambal oelek, an Asian chile paste, his own Jamaican jerk paste, or harissa paste. 

Rack 'em UpWith more than 450 spices and blends in the shop, the Johnstons only keep so many on hand at home. Their rack holds favorites such as red Thai curry and Janet’s favorite Chinese five-spice, and an overflow drawer is stocked with small amounts of more unusual offerings, such as juniper berries.

Quick Tip Mike suggests creating a paste out of marinades like Jamaican jerk to create an incredibly spicy condiment. After marinating meat or vegetables, bring the leftover marinade to a boil until it reduces down into a paste.

Jamaican Jerk Marinade

(Serves 4–6) This recipe suits Mike’s love of fire. Reduce the amount of jerk for a less spicy dish.

  • 6–8 tablespoons Jamaican jerk seasoning (available at Savory Spice)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 4 tablespoons lime juice
  • 6 tablespoons orange juice
  • 6 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 3 pounds chicken (Mike recommends boneless, skinless thighs)
  • Thoroughly combine jerk seasoning with olive oil, soy sauce, lime juice, orange juice, and vinegar in a resealable container. Add chicken. Refrigerate and marinate for 4 to 8 hours. Grill and serve over coconut rice (recipe below).
  • Coconut Rice: Cook rice according to the package’s instructions, but replace half of the water with coconut milk.