The New York International Olive Oil Competition began today with speakers addressing a full house at The International Culinary Center.
Curtis Cord, the event organizer, opened the seminars by welcoming guests to the “definitive worldwide competition” in the “world’s greatest city.” Dorothy Hamilton, the founder of the International Culinary Center, also welcomed conference participants and praised Cord as a “true visionary.”
Cord’s words on the great difference in olive oil consumption between Mediterranean nations and the world’s emerging markets, and associated health data, segued into a talk by expert olive oil taster and educator, Lina Smith.
Smith, a panelist at this year’s competition, examined data in consumption, production, and quality between the nations of the Mediterranean basin and New World markets. Citing that 95 percent of the world’s olive oil is still consumed in the Mediterranean region, she challenged the audience to think of such nations as the US, Japan, and China as olive oil markets with massive potential for growth. Her data noted that a group of “small but dynamic” national industries, with close attention to quality, are revolutionizing the industry in the same way that such “New World players” transformed the wine industry in the 1960s and 70s.
Smith’s talk was followed by a presentation by actress, writer, and filmmaker Carol Drinkwater, who has published 19 volumes on olive oil and her journey to discover the history behind olive oil, which she called “the cornerstone of the Mediterranean.”
Having traveled as far as Lebanon and Algeria in search of the world’s oldest olive trees, Drinkwater told the story of her collaboration with UNESCO to create an olive oil heritage trail. She also showed film clips from her recent work on the olive histories and cultures of Spain, Italy, Greece, and the Holy Land.
The conference also heard from Alexandra Kicenik Devarenne, an olive oil educator and consultant, about olive oil qualities and tasting methods. Audience members were invited to taste olive oils and value their bitterness, fruitiness, and pungency, and to recognize the taste of rancidity. The audience sampled more oil varieties with a seminar by Paul Vossen, olive oil consultant and taste panelist, on global oil production and the marks of olive oil quality.
Keith Ayoob, a pediatrician, professor and dietary expert continued the conference with a discussion on the Mediterranean diet and the various medical studies that have proven it to be a healthy lifestyle choice.
Johnny Madge, a slow food and olive oil expert, gave a lecture on olive oil bitterness. Noting a correlation between bitterness and health benefits, Madge drew sources on taste preference from ancient Rome, as did Gino Celletti, chairman of the Monocultivar Olive Oil Association and the chief judge of the New York International Olive Oil Competition. Celletti spoke on olive oil complexity, character, and how to best elevate dishes with olive oil flavor notes.
The last speaker of the event’s first day was Steven Jenkins, of Fairway Market, who offered his experiences as one of the foremost olive oil retailers.
As the taste panelists continue to sample the hundreds of varieties entered in this year’s competition, conference attendees will hear from more experts, educators, and merchants until the winners are announced Thursday evening.