An increasing number of chefs in Spain are becoming ambassadors for extra virgin olive oil in their own country. They are not just winning prizes and recognition; they are demonstrating to their own fellow Spaniards the value of their cultural and gastronomical heritage. Olive Oil Times caught up with three award-winning Andalusian chefs.
We have some of the best oils in the world but the problem is in transmitting the message of good practices to chefs and consumers.
At only 22 years old, Jesús Moral is the youngest chef to win the prestigious award Premio Cocinero Revelación 2017 at the Madrid Fusion Congress last month.
The young chef grew up in his family´s restaurant, Taberna Miguel, located in Bailen, Jaén, in the heart of olive oil country. After finishing his studies and working along side of Michelin- starred chefs, he returned home. His parents recognized both his passion and his abilities by giving him his own space in the family restaurant where today he creates his masterful dishes.
When we asked about his first memory of olive oil he was quiet for a moment. Perhaps it was an obvious question for him. After a long pause, he said, “I was born with olive oil, it is our way of life.”
Moral admitted he is right now the chef of the hour. Everyone wants to talk with him and reservations in the restaurant have exploded, he said.
He understands that this new fame puts him in a very good position to show locals and international audiences how the dishes from his region can be and how these plates can be enriched with high-quality olive oil.
Foreigners, he explained, from North America and Asia are easier to convince about the benefits of quality olive oil. It is more difficult to persuade locals to spend a few more euros on a bottle of olive oil that will improve their cuisine.
Moral is not the only one to express that Spaniards are a bit more unwilling to use higher quality olive oils. Chef Daniel García Peinado from Málaga also has experienced more reluctance from locals to use better olive oil. He noted that Andalusians grow up around olive oil and often think they know everything. Foreigners are more open to learning.
Five years ago, García Peinado first came in contact with olive oil thanks to the Spanish doctor, José Antonio Amérigo, who was looking for chefs to help him create a new menu of dishes rich in oleocanthal for his patients. It was in this moment that the chef realized that this product was not just for cooking but an important role in health.
From this point on he began studying the best ways to elaborate plates with olive oil while maintaining its sensorial and healthy qualities. He said he had been able to win prizes by surprising international judges by his use of olive oil. He noted that there are not many chefs that know how to use the product and it gives him an edge.
García Peinado made a very important point during his interview with us. He explained that it is the chef that translates the benefits and the complexity of the product. Scientists discover new findings, tasters are able to decipher the nuances and characterize the oil and, doctors can tell you it is good for your heart, but it is the chef that brings these messages home to the consumer. Without the chef there is no link, the message is lost.
This March, he will be opening his own restaurant in Málaga, Oleoteca. The restaurant will not just serve delicious and healthy dishes but it will be a place where people can come and learn about olive oil and the most surprising ways to use it.
José Luis Navas abandoned his own kitchen to reach out to chefs and provide them with instruction on how to use olive oil. He recognizes that there is a large misinformation on how to implement olive oil in cuisine. “We have some of the best oils in the world but the problem is in transmitting the message of good practices to chefs and consumers.”
Navas not only instructs chefs, he is also the director of the National Gastronomic Congress for Extra Virgin Olive Oil held annually in the province of Jaén. Prestigious chefs, sommeliers, and gastronomic experts come together during the event to show innovative ways in which Jaén’s extra virgin olive oils can be used in gastronomy.
When asked about the future of olive oil, Navas had a lot to say.
He believes that there is so much more to explore in the world of olive oil especially when it comes to blends. He explained that we have been caught up for some time in monovarietals and it is time to take another step. “Imagine a blend of extra virgin olive oil that can perfectly bring out the flavors of a plate. This is just one of the things we are working on now.”