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The spice is right

Chef Mike Sonier travels the world to turn international flavours into Ethical Table spice blends

Perhaps the best phrase to describe chef Mike Sonier is “travelling food artist.”

He has a knack for elevating combinations of simple local ingredients and unique flavours into works of art that dance on the palate.

Having developed his craft back home in Moncton, NB and transferred his culinary talents to BC 15 years ago, Mike has put distance between himself and the full-time commitment of owning and operating his own restaurant. These days he’s often in exotic and sometimes remote locales, experiencing the outdoors and local food culture, building relationships with growers and other chefs, and sharing his discoveries online and in person, through exclusive catch-and-cook style presentations.

I meet with him via FaceTime, as he chats with me from a friend’s restaurant in Mexico City. He sounds happy to be living his dream: exploring the world and discovering new flavours to combine creatively into his dishes. Many of those international tastes have been incorporated into the growing line of spice blends (eight and counting) that he has created, and now markets through his Ethical Table Food Co.

“I literally spend my day at the markets,” he says enthusiastically. “The whole point of the travel is to discover new ingredients and experiences within the communities and learn from the culture. Every single ingredient tells a story, and each blend tells the story of my travels.”

Taco seasoning Pura Vida, for example, draws on Mike’s extended culinary discoveries in Costa Rica and Mexico; Caribbean Jerk seasoning was inspired by a months-long catamaran trip spearfishing and free diving in and around the Bahamas. Canadian Seas is blended as a perfect enhancement for fish and seafood, and Mike’s cooking experiences on the east and west coasts played heavily into its makeup.

Not surprisingly, this Vancouver resident’s travels tend to steer him away from touristy areas. He prefers to connect with people outside those centres to learn firsthand about local food and foraging traditions, and then use his skills preparing meals from scratch to craft his own combinations.

Mike effectively uses the Ethical Table recipe web page, as well as short videos on social media, to show exactly what that looks like.

In one, the viewer is placed in the middle of the Caribbean for a squid fishing outing. Subsequent clips narrated by Mike show how he used squid ink as an ingredient in making fresh pasta, and the squid tubes for crispy calamari with stuffed jalapeños—all prepared on the boat.

Other posts show him making other amazing dishes from scratch, many of which include cooking or finishing with specific Ethical Table spice blends.

A former restaurant consultant who put together farm-to-table concepts here and on Canada’s east coast for about 10 years, Mike initially launched Ethical Table as a catering company specializing in pop-up special events that promoted sustainability and cultivated connections between local farmers and the community. He has added a distinct international flavour to that side of the business in the past five years.

“The more collaborative work I do now is doing super-fun and inspiring events with other chefs,” he says.

He points to a recent 10-course dinner he teamed up on in Mexico, with each course paired with a different type of mezcal. He also partners with wineries and is a chef with Veuve Clicquot, which hosts special champagne-inspired dinners and cooking classes in France and North America (see The New Makers Collective post on Ethical Table’s Instagram page).

“What I’m after now is to showcase, of course, the beautiful local ingredients—that’s always part of my concept—but also to make really exciting, out-of-the-norm experiences. That’s why I travel the globe the way that I do.”

He has worked hard to maintain the ethical, sustainable approach with which he began Ethical Table. All herbs and spices in the blends are certified organic, and even the Canadian-made packaging is eco-friendly. Any imported ingredients, such as the Costa Rican coffee beans that go into the Maple Espresso dry rub/marinade, are sourced through fair-trade companies.

While the pandemic initially delayed the launch of the spice blends, Mike says, they have proven to be extremely popular with home cooks looking to jazz up their meals.

“The feedback I get from the consumers is absolutely amazing and I think the best part is that it’s an ongoing story. My goal with this is to follow my adventures and to share all the inspiration and recipes through my travels. It’s a great way for me to connect with people in their own homes and in their own kitchens.”

With the pandemic forcing people to cook more at home, and currently inflation making eating out a pricier undertaking, connecting with home cooks this way has left Mike feeling good about his contribution.

“I started this company as kind of a passion project. Everyone always asked for my spice blends and rubs in my restaurant, so I wanted to give them something to take home. As we went through COVID, I realized it’s something that’s more crucial than just having a little spice blend floating around; I feel like it’s something that’s needed. Everyone loves to cook.”

Telling stories through food seems to be second nature for Mike. Inspiring others to craft their own food adventures—and helping them forge a stronger connection to their culture through food—is a skill he continues to develop, one trip and one meal at a time.

Find recipes, a list of spice blends and more at and follow Mike’s adventures at