MONTCLAIR, NJ – Lynley Jones has created a way to make cooking fun and adventurous by developing her own spice blends and recipes. Adventure Kitchen is the result of that. Jones is founder and chief creator.
Jones, originally from Arizona, moved to New Jersey 25 years ago after graduate school to work at AT&T in Basking Ridge. Lynley resides in Montclair with her husband and two children who attend Montclair High School. Both her daughter and son have helped with Adventure Kitchen and her son was a camp counselor for the Adventure Kitchen Summer Camps. Jones canceled the camp this year due to COVID-19. The camp is for 8 to 14-year-olds who are curious cooks and eaters as well as selective eaters.
Her brother, Eric Jones, moved to Montclair about a year and half ago to help manage Adventure Kitchen.
Jones, a stay at home mom for 10 years, received a note from the Parent Teacher Association asking if any parents had any fun skills that they could teach the kids after school. She did not think he had any skills to offer students. Her kids suggested she teach cooking. “It didn’t occur to me because I didn’t go to cooking school, I went to business school,” she said.
Jones learned how to cook working in restaurants for 10 years between college and graduate school. “I was cooking every day with my kids teaching them how to cook,” she said.
When she started teaching the children, Jones wanted to be creative. “Being from Arizona I thought gosh what is the one thing I could teach that these Montclair kids may not know a lot about and I thought Mexican food,” she said.
It was important to her that the kids learned the history and culture behind the food. “I come to Mexican food because of my Arizona upbringing. I have a deep fondness for it and it feels very much like part of my background but I’m not Mexican. There’s a thousand years of history behind something like guacamole,” she said.
Adventure Kitchen’s name came to be from the afterschool program. “Food is something that opens your hearts to each other and brings you together and it’s pleasurable and I think adventure kind of talks about that. When I was working with kids I was like no, it’s going to be an adventure kitchen because we come together and have fun discovering things,” said Jones.
Jones began writing the recipes and information explaining where the food comes from and how the cuisine has evolved. “I thought as long as I am writing up all this information I should probably put it online somehow because it might be interesting to other people too,” she said.
However, Jones wanted to include the cultural ingredients and recognized some are hard to obtain. “I realized I could make the ingredients available through the website. And that is how we have the spices and specialty ingredients we have now,” she said.
The cooking classes started five years ago and the spices first became available through the website around December 2017 with only 25 jars for sale. The first two blends launched were the Sumac and Sage Seasoning with sage from her own backyard and a Mexican Spice Blend. Jones had to discontinue the blend temporarily since she cannot get piloncillo sugar from Mexico.
According to Jones, most Americans are just discovering sumac and it was new to her as well. Sumac is citrusy and she wanted to pair it with a contrasting flavor, which also compliments it. “A lot of people use it like they would use lemon. It’s super versatile, when I was creating it I was thinking about chicken but it’s good on so many things. So we started on our website a 101 ways to use Sumac and Sage Seasoning,” she said.
One recipe she created for grilled peaches. “The sweetness from the peaches with a little biter from grilling them, the caramelization and the sauce on the top is almost like a margarita – it has lime, tequila and sweet and spicy from Aleppo [pepper]. One of the things I love about Mexican food is it’s like a party in your mouth because its different flavors and textures and cool and hot and spicy sort of altogether,” said Jones.
They also offer fall flavors such as Pumpkin Pie Spice, which they sell all year long– a combination of cloves, cinnamon and ginger– Indian, African Moroccan spices. Jones offers tips to add the spice to coffee or roasted butternut squash. “You can do a lot with that spice blend other than pumpkin pie,” she said.
Jones is trying to grow her business quickly to get to a scalable level where she can sustainably run it. In 2019, she added prepared foods and frozen spice pops, and in the winter, hot-spiced drinks. All that Jones placed on hold this year due to COVID-19. “Over the last year and half now we grew gangbusters. […] [Now] just down to the spices and specialty ingredients; can’t sample anything. […] I want you to smell, taste and touch things and learn things. […] Even if you don’t buy anything I want you to come and have an adventure with us,” she said.
In addition, she closed the pop up shop. “With the pandemic, there are too many unknowns to have one now,” she said.
The production is also a longer process because of the pandemic. A small staff of three and the Joneses label all the jars outdoors while wearing masks. However, Jones did not have to stop production during the shutdown and was able access the commercial kitchen based in Montclair to create their products.
Adventure Kitchen is doing well overall. “Our revenues are definitely cut because of the shutdown. However, the remaining part, the spices and specialty ingredients, is very healthy right now. People are cooking from home. It’s much more comfortable to shop outdoors at a farmers market,” said Jones.
Aside from her Arizonian upbringing, Jones’ recipes ideas are sometimes off the cuff. Honestly, it’s kind of whatever’s in my fridge, what I can find at the farmers market, and whatever is in my spice cabinet that are Adventure Kitchen spices,” she said.
Adventure Kitchen also has a social justice mission and gives 10 percent of their profits to a food related charity. Usually the summer camp kids vote on the cause – Child Hunger Relief in 2019, Clean Water in 2018, and Hurricane Maria Relief in 2017. This year Jones will choose a charity that blends racial justice and hunger relief. Adventure Kitchen also has a scholarship fund for the camps.
You can find Adventure Kitchen at the Montclair, Nutley and Holmdel farmers markets. You will see Lynley on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the Montclair Farmers Market at the Walnut Street Train Station and her brother Eric in Nutley at 529 Franklin Ave. (the old Ciccolini Brothers property) on Sundays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Lynley offers advice and cooking tips at the markets. Products can also be purchased through their website adventurekitchen.com. Adventure Kitchen offers free no-contact delivery to the Nutley/Montclair area, usually the same day.
Plans for additional spice blends and local sourced dried herbs are in development as well ideas for next year that include specialty ingredients such as preserved lemons and vanilla extract.