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Shortly after college, I traveled around the Balkans, stopping for a few weeks afterward to volunteer on an organic farm near Siena, Italy. I cleared rocks and dug trenches for a new vineyard, but during downtime, I enjoyed meals laced with the land's riches: tooth-tingling vinegar; light, nutty olive oil; floral red wine.

A special feeling came from consuming directly from the same earth that was lodged in my fingernails and boot treads. Post-voyage, I carried a new appreciation from having labored for some of those foodstuffs, as well as a new love for other cuisines I sampled. (Sappy-sweet Tunisian dates anyone?)

Dave Nigh, the subject of this week's cover feature on p. 17, is someone who fully understands that intimate, experience-based relationship with food. Nigh's import business helps fuel some of the Front Range's top kitchens, and his own travels to that same region and beyond inform his quiet influence on chefs.

We tend to rightfully credit those chefs for their creativity and innovation, but only with recent trends in food awareness have we also begun casting kudos toward the producers and, in this case, distributors, that help bring superior flavors to our kitchens.

This feature represents only one glimpse into a tiny corner of the cupboard. But in the right hands, a little spice can go a long way.

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