It was the biggest day of the year for olive oil. High-quality olive oil producers, marketers, merchants and buyers, as well as culinary professionals and journalists from around the world, gathered in the International Culinary Center (ICC) in SoHo Wednesday to network and discuss all things great olive oil. Viewers worldwide tuned in via a live-streamed broadcast.
“The purpose of this occasion is to draw attention to the value of high quality extra-virgin olive oil, not only for the sake of producers but for the benefit of all of us,” said Curtis Cord, NYIOOC president and Olive Oil Times publisher, to open the third edition of the NYIOOC Conference.
Speakers included Lionsgate Entertainment founder and philanthropist Frank Giustra, Oldways president Sara Baer-Sinnott, ICC founder Dorothy Cann-Hamilton, olive oil expert and retailer Steven Jenkins, Boundary Bend CEO Rob McGavin, chef María José San Román, and others.
In another room in the ICC, the world’s top exerts were busy blind-tasting some 671 olive oils from 26 countries to determine the world’s finest olive oils in the New York International Olive Oil Competition. Dr. Giuseppe Di Lecce, Food Chemistry Department, Eurofins Chemical Control, Eleftheria Germanaki, panel supervisor, Greek Accreditation Authority, and Dr. Brígida Jímenez Herrera, director, IFAPA de Cabra led the international judging panel.
The olive oils competed for the coveted Gold, Silver and Best in Class awards and to be among the best olive oils in the world, as the winners of the annual contest are known. They were announced at a press conference at the conclusion of the day.
See more: The World's Best Olive Oils for 2015
The theme of the conference was the culture of olive oil. “Few foods can boast such a rich cultural heritage,” Cord said. High-quality olive oil is “woven into local culinary traditions as to be inseparable from a way of life.”
Attendees from around the world listened, debated, and expounded on olive oil. “It’s amazing that the speakers are so diverse, with such different views,” said Amanda Kenny, director of business development at Domenica Fiore, who came from her home in Vancouver to be at the NYIOOC.
Wendy Logan, editor-in-chief of the Fairfield County, Connecticut food, art and culture magazine The Beat, agreed. “The conference is incredible, absolutely fascinating. Although the speakers are eclectic, the message is the same — it’s about quality, quality, quality.”
“Twenty years ago, to speak about the culture of olive oil was unthinkable,” said Antonio Balenzano, director for the Associazione Nazionale Città dell’Olio. Balenzano designs and implements projects, conferences and international events to celebrate the culture of extra virgin olive oil. He spoke about the Mediterranean diet as “the container for the culture, the history, the tradition of olive oil” and a powerful marketing tool.
“Olive oil can thrill and delight us and carry us through our lives,” Steven Jenkins said. Lisa Sasson, professor of Nutrition and Food Studies at New York University told of her students falling in love with exquisite olive oils and never looking back. “It wasn’t like anything they had tasted before,” she said.
“For centuries in Spain, we have used olive oil from morning to evening, in all of the dishes we cook.” Said María José San Roman, chef of Michelin-starred Monastrell in Alicante, Spain, and one of her country’s great chefs. “We have more than 300 (olive) varietals in Spain. It’s the most important thing as a chef: different olive oils change dishes completely. The future is educating people about quality — and quality is about taking care.”
Chef San Roman prepared artichoke with Picual and Arbequina monocultivar oils, tomato sauce with Picudo, olive oil Béarnaise-topped asparagus, bacalao with Hojiblanca, and olive oil choux pastries for the lucky attendees to taste. “The secret is the quality of the ingredients,” she says.
Conference attendees were the first to taste the newly-crowned NYIOOC winners at an awards reception hosted by the ICC immediately following the unveiling. Great people, lively conversation, deep knowledge and passion, and incredible extra-virgin olive oil made a momentous day in the world of olive oil.