18 Complete Sommelier Certification Program

Professionals and enthusiasts from eight countries who completed the six-day program at the International Culinary Center said they were eager to use their expertise to educate others and advance innovative projects.

By Daniel Dawson
Sep. 19, 2018 08:33 UTC

A group of olive oil pro­fes­sion­als and enthu­si­asts gath­ered in Campbell, California last week to attend the Olive Oil Sommelier Certification Program at the International Culinary Center.

The six-day course pro­duced by the Olive Oil Times Education Lab pro­vided in-depth instruc­tion in olive oil pro­duc­tion, qual­ity man­age­ment, advanced sen­sory assess­ment and culi­nary appli­ca­tions.

Education is the biggest tool in get­ting the American con­sumer to know what good oil is. Now I can bring a greater depth of knowl­edge to help them do that.- Patti Gilbride, California Olive Ranch

It was widely hailed as a suc­cess by its par­tic­i­pants, many of whom came from dif­fer­ent parts of the indus­try and plan to apply their newly acquired knowl­edge in dif­fer­ent ways when they return to work. However, one thing the par­tic­i­pants who spoke with Olive Oil Times all had in com­mon was how impressed they were with the scope of the course and the knowl­edge of the panel.

I loved it,” Patti Gilbride, a mem­ber of the sales depart­ment at California Olive Ranch, said. I feel like, before the course, I had the bones of under­stand­ing. The course added the flesh and mus­cle to my under­stand­ing. I really enjoyed learn­ing more about the sci­ence behind the oil and how I can relate that to my cus­tomers.”

Gilbride said she plans on using what she learned at the course to bet­ter edu­cate her cor­po­rate cus­tomers.

Education is the biggest tool in get­ting the American con­sumer to know what good oil is. For me, that starts with my buy­ers,” she said. I think I will be a bet­ter sales­per­son and resource to my cus­tomers. Retailers are look­ing at how they can edu­cate their con­sumers and now I feel that I can bring a greater depth of knowl­edge to help them do that.”

Increasing her knowl­edge about what makes dif­fer­ent extra vir­gin olive oil stand out from one another was also the rea­son Yuriko Tsunoda, an exporter at the Sumitomo Corporation, decided to take the course.

I got my cur­rent job at the Sumitomo Corporation in California eight months ago and started being in charge of sell­ing and export­ing U.S. veg­etable oils to Japan,” she said. I need to have more knowl­edge about the veg­etable oils over­all, and olive oil is the one that I am most inter­ested in.”

Tsunoda plans on using her new­found exper­tise to assist with her selec­tion of olive oils for export. She also plans to use some of the con­tacts she made at the event to help build her net­work and pur­sue more oppor­tu­ni­ties to pro­mote great olive oils in Japan.

“[The course was] excel­lent,” she said. All the classes were inter­est­ing and we could feel the enthu­si­asm of all the speak­ers who came all the way from their own coun­tries. After expe­ri­enc­ing this course, I feel the pas­sion to become an olive oil spe­cial­ist.”

While Tsunoda was a rel­a­tive new­comer to the extra vir­gin olive oil sec­tor, Theodora (Theo) Stephan, an olive grower and oil pro­ducer in California, took the course ahead of her twen­ti­eth har­vest. She came to the course expect­ing to learn some more tech­ni­cal details of olive oil pro­duc­tion.

The course far sur­passed my expec­ta­tions rel­a­tive to what I already knew com­pared to what I did not,” she said. The experts asso­ci­ated with the course gave it all the more cred­i­bil­ity.”

The instruc­tors included Carola Dümmer Medina an expert taster from Chile and a panel leader at the NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition; the renowned Italian expert and panel leader Antonio G. Lauro; Kostas Liris, a Greek agron­o­mist and NYIOOC Panel Leader; Nicholas Coleman, ole­ol­o­gist; Perola Polillo, a renowned Brazilian chef and cer­ti­fied olive oil som­me­lier; Pablo Voitzuk, award-win­ning miller and world­wide con­sul­tant; and Liliana Scarafia and Carlos Marchado, a team from California’s Agbiolab. The pro­gram is directed by Curtis Cord, pub­lisher of Olive Oil Times and NYIOOC pres­i­dent.

Stephan is a first-gen­er­a­tion Greek who moved out to Santa Barbara, California from Dayton, Ohio with the goal of grow­ing olives and mak­ing olive oil. However, she also wants to have a more active role in shar­ing the knowl­edge she has gained in the course with every­one from chefs to ordi­nary con­sumers.

I truly hope to become a spokesper­son for the indus­try and espe­cially teach every­one from chefs to home cooks how extra vir­gin olive oil can increase the depth of their culi­nary cre­ations,” she said. I also hope to take some of the more tech­ni­cal infor­ma­tion that I learned and make it more digestible for an every­day audi­ence.”

Another attendee look­ing to add to his olive oil knowl­edge in order to share it with oth­ers was Bryan Saba. Saba is a semi­con­duc­tor hard­ware designer, but also a pas­sion­ate olive oil pro­ducer with his own busi­ness that just entered its tenth year.


I wanted to ensure that I knew what I was talk­ing about in regards to olive oil,” Saba said. We have a large farm­ers’ mar­ket busi­ness in the Bay Area. I want to teach my asso­ciate so that he can inform our cus­tomers about great tast­ing olive oil.”

In addi­tion to edu­ca­tion, Saba also took the course in order to net­work with local farm­ers and find inno­v­a­tive ways to mar­ket his prod­uct to con­sumers. He was pleas­antly sur­prised by what he learned and plans to apply it to his olive oil busi­ness.

We tasted more than 140 oils in six days from all over the world,” he said. The dynamic fla­vor pro­files made me a believer that we need to add more worldly extra vir­gin olive oil for our cus­tomers. I also learned that my extra vir­gin olive oil was just okay. I need to work on this. I need to find bet­ter sources to bring to mar­ket.”

Another of the atten­dees who was sur­prised by how much she learned was Caroline Robitaille, a nat­ural chef” from north­ern California. She was not orig­i­nally going to attend but ended up tak­ing her son’s place after he had to can­cel.

I went in with all of the wrong infor­ma­tion about olive oil and I came out with a new appre­ci­a­tion for fresh­ness and qual­ity and the health ben­e­fits,” she said. Equally as impor­tant is how risky olive oil can be when improper treat­ment occurs prior to con­sum­ing.”

With her new­found knowl­edge, Robitaille hopes to become more involved with the olive oil com­mu­nity by teach­ing chefs and con­sumers how to bet­ter cook with olive oil.

I want to teach as far and as wide as I pos­si­bly can,” Robitaille said. I absolutely love the [olive oil] com­mu­nity and would love to have some sort of long-term affil­i­a­tion, in order to get to a greater num­ber of peo­ple [involved].”

In a few weeks, she will begin what she called a healthy din­ners group, pair­ing olive oils from around the world with com­ple­men­tary cuisines. After that, she plans on lead­ing a tour of a local extra vir­gin olive oil shops as part of an effort to pro­mote healthy culi­nary spe­cialty stores in her area. Eventually, Robitaille plans on lead­ing retreats that are based on her teach­ings.

While it may not be the only dri­ver behind her ambi­tious future projects, the Olive Oil Sommelier Certification course added to Robitaille’s pas­sion for holis­tic nutri­tion in cook­ing.

“[The course was] so much more than I could have ever antic­i­pated,” she said. The qual­ity and care that went into design­ing this course are com­mend­able.”

The next Olive Oil Times Education Lab/International Culinary Center Olive Oil Sommelier Certification Course will be held in London, England January 20 – 25.

Olive Oil Times Education Lab
International Culinary Center
Certified Olive Oil Sommeliers

Adam Ben Salah
Marisa Bloch
Molly Galetto
Patti Gilbride
Lincoln Giles
Emily Lycopolus
Caroline Robitaille
Jenny Russell
Bryan Saba
Agnes Sabat
Theodora Stephan
Zach Thorp
Sayoungu Tosku
Yi-Hui Yvette Wang
Tammie Ward
Doreen Whiteside
Grant Yuan
Tsunoda Yuriko


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