If there is anyone to credit for Dallas' appetite for locally grown produce, it's Tom Spicer. His impossibly peppery arugula, foraged mushrooms and other garden delights have been staples on fine dining menus for the past several years, and Spicer established himself as one of the city's fiercest advocates for local food throughout his 30-year career in the industry.
Which is why Spicer's death is so devastating to the local food community and the people who loved his quirky and entirely original personality. As D first reported yesterday, Spicer was found dead in his residence by a friend after repeated calls went unanswered. He was 59.
According to ex-wife Ann Spicer, who spoke to D, Tom Spicer's death is likely related to "organic causes," perhaps a stroke. He was at the sink washing berries when he died, she said.
Spicer had recently announced a series of dinners at Garden Cafe, and it looked like a comeback after what was a rough year for the veteran farmer. Late last year, he was locked out of his property on Fitzhugh Avenue, his locally famous Spiceman 1410 storefront, and was facing the loss of the urban garden that he had spent years cultivating.
For residents of East Dallas and foodies who made the trek to his ramshackle shop next to Jimmy's Italian Deli, Spicer was as much an educator as he was a purveyor. Stopping by Spiceman's for a bag of arugula or foraged mushrooms meant taking a walk through the garden, or getting a new recipe to prepare the produce that you were purchasing. If you were really, really lucky, maybe he took you out to one of his top-secret foraging spots, provided that you didn't annoy him or get in the way.
He was known for strangely poetic descriptions of his produce, sometimes in words only he could understand. "The greens from our garden here at the FM 1410 are taking on an ethnic divide. I have baby white trash, trailer court greens -- dandelion, turnips, rainbow chards, amaranths, sorrel, fat radish cotyledons, and others," he wrote in a 2014 Facebook post. "Then I have an Asian 'Lolita Greens' all Japanese mustards, tender, beautiful, submissive, and... expensive lol."
If you were lucky, you attended one of his famous "Out Standing In The Garden" dinners, prepared by the city's best chefs and Spiceman himself. There was no better culinary experience in Dallas than being able to walk through his farm and pluck a few leaves off of whatever crazy shit he was growing out there to taste. There was no one more committed to the concept of local and organic food, and not just as a marketing ploy.
My favorite memory of Spicer involves a deceptively large kabocha squash. I planned to make soup, and ended up with over five gallons after breaking down this massive squash, so I decided to take some to Spicer as a thank you. He happily took my soup, which was probably not very good (I was new to cooking at the time), and started putting together my produce order. When it came time to pay for my salad greens and the pea tendrils he talked me into buying, he wouldn't take my money. "We're bartering," he said, and sacked up my veggies and sent me on my way.