Sam Binkley pairs music with good taste
Eating healthy should never feel like a sacrifice. It should feel and taste like an indulgence, explains Samantha Binkley as she extols the virtue of spice.
“The smell of healthy cuisine should make your mouth water,” she says.
Imagine one of her recent dishes with braised coconut, chickpea, spinach, sundried tomatoes, lemon, and a festive spice recipe of smoked sweet paprika, garlic, onion, parsley, saffron, sea salt, and turmeric to accompany your protein of choice—like chicken thighs, tofu or salmon. Binkley serves hers with chicken and roasted sweet potato smothered in a bit of that stewed coconut milk broth.
Binkley advocates for eating food that’s fresh, fragrant, and full of flavor and she considers it an accessible luxury at any income level. According to her, the only thing you’ll need is a sense of adventure and a few spices.
“Adding spice is the best way to eat well, cut fat and get great flavor,” says Binkley, who founded Healthy on You, a one-woman company that provides cooking classes and a fanciful collection of spice blends sold in over 17 stores.
Born in Jamaica and raised in the Bronx, Binkley has a degree in film from New York University. Instead of the documentary film industry, she ended up developing strategies to help promote and sell the technology used to stream media. However, being a creative at heart, she always longed for something more fulfilling.
The trauma of living in New York during the horrific September 11 attack gave her and her family the motivation to seek out something new, different, and life-affirming. Eventually, she and her husband ended up developing a gorgeous acre of land in Del Mar that they acquired just as a radical home reconstruction had been initiated by the previous owner. A lifelong cook, she created the kitchen of her dreams that featured a wide-open inviting space to entertain guests while she cooked without them getting in the way. She didn’t know it at the time, but the design would be perfectly suited for the private at-home culinary adventures she would soon host.
Binkley’s daughter, Zoelle, was the unexpected instigator of her spice company.
“I had her when I was in my 20s and back then I was working all the time,” Binkley says. After leaving New York, Binkley poured even more love and attention onto Zoelle until one day when she made one of her frequent calls to check-in on her daughter at college and Zoelle made a not-so-subtle suggestion.
“She said, ‘Mom, I think you need to look within and find your passion’,” meaning a different passion than calling her so often, Binkley said. The implication was clear, you should get a life.
“I was hurt, angry and kind of confused for a while,” Binkley says. “I mean I wanted to scream, ‘YOU are my passion.’ But I knew what she was saying.”
After a little grieving, Binkley started exploring something else that she loved, cooking and entertaining. She trained to be a health coach and discovered that she loved teaching people to be healthier by cooking cleaner versions of their usual meals.
She started teaching small classes in her home in 2015 and it was an instant hit. Binkley used fresh herbs from her bountiful home garden—thyme, basil, parsley—and harvested vegetables to accompany her beluga lentil salad and Moroccan-spiced spatchcock chicken recipes.
For class, she mixed her own organic spice blends just as she’d learned from her mother. She crafted large batches so that her students would have samples to take home and experiment with the recipes in their own kitchens. Moroccan Around the Clock was her first customization—allspice, black pepper, coriander, cumin, Kosher salt, and mustard seeds.
The blends unexpectedly went from being a class perk to a thriving business. Loyal students returned asking for more.
Eventually, Binkley decided to start packaging and selling six of her must-have favorites. Now she has more than 17 blends sold online and in-stores, including all five Jimbo’s locations, Seaside Market, Erewhon Market in Los Angeles, as well as food cooperatives and markets in Ocean Beach, Santa Monica, and Culver City.
“I grew up in the Bronx but my mother always had a garden,” Binkley says. It was a small but mighty patch of land that her mom used to grow herbs and vegetables and seek solace.
“My mom is Jamaican but of Indian heritage so Jamaican curry was king—curry goat, curry fish, curry everything,” Binkley says. “Bland food was not an option. My parents love spice and my mother never tapered the level of spice or heat for us kids. So we grew up accustomed to full, rich flavors like it or not.”
Luckily, Binkley loved it.
Later though, she was motivated to cook with less meat, butter, and cream. She explained that it was her familiarity with spice that gave her the confidence to alter dishes that normally rely on animal fat or dairy to enhance flavors.
A simple recipe of chicken legs calls for a generous three tablespoons of her Za’atar spice blend in addition to garlic, onion, lemon, and lime. Her version of the Middle Eastern seasoning contains sumac, sesame seeds, and dried herbs. It is one of her most popular offerings. The official name of the blend, “While My Za’atar Gently Weeps,” is an ode to one of her favorite songs from The Beatles. All of her spices are clever homages to familiar classics.
No Woman No Spice is her version of a Jamaican Jerk Spice with plenty of heat. Her online description starts with a play on Bob Marley’s lyrics: “Everything’s gonna be all spice. Create the perfect Reggae party in your mouth… It’s sweet and spicy, tuned with perfect amounts of cinnamon and garlic.” The ingredient list also includes allspice, coconut sugar, coriander, black pepper, habanero powder, sea salt, and thyme.
The other blends are just as fun to read: Let the Good Thymes Roll, Lavender Fields Forever, House of the Rising Spice, Hit the Roast Jack, Bohemian Rosemary, Spice Spice Baby, and Here Comes the Yum to name a few.
The musical theme continues throughout her brand, which also hosts a Healthy on You music channel on Spotify to set the mood in the kitchen.
“I wanted to create a total sensory experience,” Binkley said. “My husband’s a musician so we’re always surrounded by music. It adds to the flavor.”