Kevin O’Connor has just wrapped up his second week of olive oil-themed cooking at the London Carousel restaurant.
There was that first big breakthrough of learning how to cook with (extra virgin olive oil) because I was like many chefs today, thinking that it's just for drizzling, finishing and dipping.
“It’s been very well received,” O’Connor told Olive Oil Times. “I’d say a lot of Londoners are surprised and delighted by New World olive oil because there is so much Spanish and Italian olive oil here.”
Cobram Estate is among the winningest brands at the NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition. At the 2019 NYIOOC, the company again earned awards for its Californian and Australian products. Its Cobram Estate Superior Premiere is the winner of the Gold Award five years in a row, including two Best in Class distinctions.
O’Connor and the team at London Carousel prepared a fixed menu of California-inspired dishes that are brought to life by selected extra virgin olive oils.
“I don’t cook a lot of Mediterranean dishes,” O’Connor said. “I would say I’m using it differently. I’m kind of pairing a lot of these different blends and varieties with different courses. A lot of marinating in extra virgin olive oil, grilling and finishing.”
Among the mouth-watering dishes on the menu was the marinated dairy cow bavette with roasted onions and a charred grape and beef jus.
“That dairy cow is rubbed down with some of the [Cobram Estate] First Harvest blend, some spices, some black and white peppercorns, fennel and grilled over the fire,” he said. “Then it is sliced thin and finished with some more of the blend. People have been really enjoying that.”
O’Connor’s goal is to show people how to cook with extra virgin olive oil in a way that features the tasty and healthful product.
“I want to get people to cook with extra virgin olive oil, in general,” he said. “To understand and enjoy different blends and single varietals. To have them in their repertoire and understand them. To learn how to taste them and how to cook with them is something that I’ve been wanting to push forward for years.”
“I’m sort of feeling it start to lift off,” he added.
O’Connor, who spent 10 years cooking at two different Michelin star restaurants in California, only really began to learn how to cook with olive oil when he joined Cobram Estate five years ago.
“There was that first big break through of learning how to cook with it because I was like many chefs today, thinking that it’s just for drizzling, finishing and dipping,” he said. “I was not really understanding the full capabilities of the products.”
“Understanding its full capabilities and health benefits when cooking with it along with learning about the sensory analysis has completely changed the way I cook with this product,” he added.
When O’Connor first joined Cobram Estate, their collaboration was only meant to be temporary.
“I was opening a second restaurant in Sacramento at the time and someone at Cobram reached out and asked if I’d be interested in cooking at the very first harvest launch at their olive groves in California,” he said.
So O’Connor went and cooked at the event. Along the way, he tried some of their freshly pressed California extra virgin olive oil as well as some of Cobram’s award-winning Australian olive oil.
After that experience, O’Connor continued to do more work with Cobram.
“I think they kind of fell in love with the idea of my kind of cooking and the ethos behind it,” he said. “So I just kept doing work with them and it got to the point where I was falling in love with Cobram and the idea of this position [chef-at-large].”
Since his decision to join Cobram full-time, O’Connor has been cooking around the globe, featuring Cobram’s olive oil at events such as the one at the London Carousel.
In a country where butter and rapeseed oil are the main cooking fats, O’Connor sees this two-week residency as a way to show olive oil in a different light to Londoners.
“Utilizing some of these olive oils has been really eye-opening for people,” he said. “Now they understand that olive oil can taste like this, so green and so fresh.”
O’Connor even managed to pair a sweet Hojiblanca oil with the dessert course, which is a California-inspired almond and berry tart. Olive oil is baked into the crust of the tart, as opposed to using butter, and the Hojiblanca was used to marble the whipped buttermilk.
After the last dessert was plated in London, O’Connor set off for California for a week before flying to New York to cook at events on Long Island and in Manhattan.
“That’ll be more of my style,” he said. “Just bottles of olive oil on the table and featuring it in each dish.”