`California Olive Oil Goes to Washington - Olive Oil Times

California Olive Oil Goes to Washington

Sep. 11, 2012
Alexandra Kicenik Devarenne

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Everyone knows that an army marches on its stom­ach, but it took U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to high­light the fact that diplo­macy does too. California extra vir­gin olive oil was among the foods cho­sen to show­case the best of American cui­sine at the launch of the Diplomatic Culinary Partnership Initiative on Friday, September 7th, at the State Department in Washington.

Mary Sue Milliken and Deborah Rogers

California olive oil pio­neer Deborah Rogers of The Olive Press, hon­ored by Olive Oil Times as Producer of the Year in 2010, was invited to attend the event and sup­ply olive oil for the par­tic­i­pat­ing chefs. The most awarded olive oil maker in the coun­try pro­vided Picual and Arbequina extra vir­gin olive oils for use in the prep kitchen and for gifts. VIPs, chefs, food jour­nal­ists and media received bot­tles of the Best of Show-win­ning monocul­ti­var olive oils in their gift bas­kets.

Food mat­ters” was the recur­ring theme at the event com­mem­o­rat­ing a unique part­ner­ship between the Department of State and the James Beard Foundation. The ini­tia­tive draws on top chefs from across the United States — the American Chef Corps — as resources for a pro­gram devel­oped under the guid­ance of U.S. State Department Chief of Protocol Capricia Penavic Marshall. The list of over 80 chefs who will serve as edu­ca­tors and culi­nary ambas­sadors is impres­sive, includ­ing Jose Andres, Bryan Voltaggio, Masaharu Morimoto, Emily Lucchetti and Joanne Weir, to name a few.

The recog­ni­tion that food unites us is at the heart of the pro­gram. Although nego­ti­a­tion over the din­ner table is noth­ing new, Secretary Clinton has rec­og­nized the impor­tance of the actual food that appears on the table. Previously, the State Department relied on local cater­ers who offered stan­dard menus. Now, there is much greater atten­tion being paid to the food from culi­nary and cul­tural per­spec­tives.

Jason Larkin, Executive Chef for the State Department’s Chief of Protocol with The Olive Press’ Deborah Rogers

A meal last February for Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping is a per­fect exam­ple of how food can con­nect peo­ple. Chinese-American chef Ming Tsai, of Blue Ginger in Wellesley, Massachusetts, served soy-mar­i­nated black cod and eight trea­sured rice packet with dried fruit and pork sausage. When Mr. Xi met the chef, his eyes lit up,” said Marshall. They spoke Chinese, and accord­ing to the trans­la­tor, he said, Isn’t this won­der­ful.’ ”

Deborah Rogers described the culi­nary diplo­macy kick-off as an amaz­ing and hum­bling expe­ri­ence for me. Being just a sim­ple olive oil maker, I felt very small in that room last night. The good news is the chefs I spoke to really sang the praises of using olive oil in their kitchens.”

Food Network’s Amanda Freitag was suc­cinct when she met the olive oil maker, Oh my God, I love you!” she said. Another of the celebrity chefs present at Friday’s recep­tion was Mary Sue Milliken of Border Grill and tele­vi­sion fame. I was happy to see your oil in the kitchen, but we used it all up!” Someone had to make an olive oil run to resup­ply the kitchen.

Jason Larkin, Executive Chef for the State Department’s Chief of Protocol, sought out The Olive Press dur­ing a mis­sion to Sonoma County seek­ing great local prod­ucts. Olive oil was on his list of nec­es­sary ingre­di­ents, and while research­ing arti­san California pro­duc­ers he came across numer­ous men­tions of Deborah Rogers. She was exactly the sort of qual­ity-obsessed culi­nary pio­neer he was look­ing for so he sched­uled a visit to The Olive Press for a taste. The offi­cial invi­ta­tion to sup­ply olive oil and attend the event fol­lowed.

Rogers was delighted by her expe­ri­ence in Washington. She sees it as a great recog­ni­tion for the California olive oil indus­try she has cham­pi­oned all these years. Sharing a table with arti­san foods from around the coun­try, and the cre­ative cook­ing of top chefs, the extra vir­gin olive oil from California was clearly a pop­u­lar — even indis­pens­able — ingre­di­ent.

In addi­tion to the extra vir­gin Picual and Arbequina, Rogers brought another one of her prod­ucts with her to Washington. When she learned that the Secretary of State was fond of pop­corn and also of spicy food, I gave her a bot­tle of Jalapeño olive oil for her pop­corn.” Movie night in Washington will never be the same again.

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