Just one month after the Olive Oil Program at the International Culinary Center conferred its certification to 26 sommeliers, the participants are wasting little time applying their expertise toward professional goals and sharing their knowledge with others in their networks.
While the groundbreaking program explores Liquid Gold from practically every angle, what’s emerging as among the most impressive aspects of the course is the diversity of the attendees and how they have accepted the responsibility to become olive oil ambassadors.
I was so inspired after the course that I decided to make it my personal mission.
Curtis Cord, the director of the Olive Oil Program at the International Culinary Center said, “The objective of these courses is to provide the most comprehensive and practical instruction possible with hopes that the participants will, in turn, educate others on this vital topic. I couldn’t be more pleased to see that happening, and so quickly.”
Olive oil producer Priscila Vejo said that what she learned at the ICC courses has had a significant impact on production decisions that will be made going forward. “We have made some arrangements with important restaurants to have three varieties offered to customers with a little description of each one — a very straightforward way of educating consumers — letting them know EVOO has different characteristics and is a valuable product.”
“I’ve also organized olive oil tastings for an important club in my city,” Vejo added, “and in private meetings as well. I feel very comfortable and self-confident and am delighted to see the faces of people when they suddenly realize what good EVOO tastes like! Once you try a good EVOO, you never go back.”
Another participant, whose company sells three tiers of private label extra virgin olive oil, offered colleagues a tasting of her own. “I picked up a bottle of each, sat down with them, and we tasted all three. Each sample had defects — none of them was extra virgin as advertised,” she said. “We then compared these to a bottle of great olive oil, and I saw everything ‘click’ for them. With a little explanation, they recognized that something was not right. We have outlined the next steps in addressing this concern within the company and with the supplier.”
Yale School of Public Health’s Tassos Kyriakides said he’ll take on the role of EVOO ambassador following the course. “In line with what I feel is our responsibility now, on Saturday night, while having dinner at one of the top restaurants where I live, I could not help but send back the olive oil that was poured for dipping bread,” he said, having discerned a notable defect.
“Of course, I discussed with the manager whom I know very well and I will be talking to the chef in the next few days. In addition, I have lined up a meeting with the chefs at an award-winning resort in Cyprus at the end of April. All this, thanks to the training from the Olive Oil Times Education Lab and the International Culinary Center.”
Wilma van Grinsven, the owner of the Netherlands-based Oil & Vinegar chain of specialty shops said, “I came back very motivated and full of energy and wondering how to share my inspiration and all the information I gained. Of course being one of the owners and buying director of a worldwide retail chain that buys olive oils from farmers in the Mediterranean, the knowledge I gained through the course in New York could be immediately put to work.”
“I was so inspired after the course that I decided to make it my personal mission,” van Grinsven said. “I truly feel the need to spread the word.”
“I’m surprised when I realize on how little is known about the use of extra virgin olive oil among food professionals, even top chefs. Every self-respecting restaurant has a sommelier for wine, but when you ask about the oil on your table or the oil that is being used in your dish, nobody can tell you more and you discover that the same oil is used for every dish.”
“This course reminded and inspired me, and this incredible food segment in Western kitchens is still almost undiscovered,” van Grinsven said. “It is my task to contribute to that. And not because I want to sell more olive oil, but because I feel it is a true mission, with no downsides: healthier people with tastier food. I want to act and communicate independently because I feel it will enhance the credibility of my mission. We want people to use good olive oil, sales will come automatically later on. First the mission!”
“April 7th I have my first restaurant visit where I will share my knowledge with the kitchen staff and the goal is easy: olive oil is just like wine. It is a tastemaker and a pairing partner to take seriously when creating a healthy dish. This course is the icing on the cake which widened my view and knowledge even more,” van Grinsven said.
Perola Polillo, the chef de cuisine at a Brazilian personal chef network Meu Bistro, put her knowledge to immediate use at her catering network: “I organized a private dinner for twenty people to cook a special menu: The Olive Oil Experience. I sold out the first day, so I did another one,” she said.
“The night was planned with great content and exchanges of information. The purpose of the whole project is not just learning how to use and cook with extra virgin olive oil, but to recognize defects, to demystify concepts about the benefits of olive oil in health and to allow my guests to know various olive oils and enjoy it.”
John Canevari, the proprietor of a family-owned olive oil and vinegar tasting room, The Blue Olive in Pawling, New York, emerged from the advanced course ready to share his newfound expertise with chefs throughout the northeast, offering education on olive oil cultivation, production, seasonal rotation and quality.
He began with Jeremy Sewall, a James Beard Award 2016 nominee, author of two seafood-inspired cookbooks and chef/partner of New England’s popular Island Creek Oyster Bar, Row 34, Eastern Standard, and The Hawthorne.
The Blue Olive offers products from California-based Veronica Foods to Sewall’s eateries and as the chef prepares to open his latest venture, Les Sablons in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Canevari saw an opportunity to further his client’s knowledge of the category.
The restaurant group’s general manager, sous chef, chef de cuisine, and in-house butcher visited the New York shop for a deep dive into the importance of well-sourced, high-quality extra virgin olive oil. Furthering the team’s knowledge of EVOO and the possibilities it offers for enhancing menu items, Canevari offered tastings and critical information about various olive cultivars and their resulting oils, noting the unique flavor profiles of each and how best to pair them with fresh ingredients.
The next Level 1 course of the Olive Oil Program presented by the Olive Oil Times Education Lab and the International Culinary Center will be held June 1-3 in New York.