Cobram Estate's New Chef Wants to 'Set the Tone' for California's Olive Oil Culture

Kevin O'Connor has spent the last few months learning all he can about olive oil as the resident chef for the Australian brand that recently set up shop in the U.S.

Cobram Estate chef Kevin O'Connor
Nov. 8, 2017
By Olive Oil Times Staff
Cobram Estate chef Kevin O'Connor

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When Kevin O’Connor was grow­ing up in Eldorado Hills, California he would set up a pre­tend kitchen in his bed­room to treat his par­ents to a care­fully crafted meal, just so I can share a pas­sion, share some­thing I love and share some­thing that can trans­form peo­ple and just bring hap­pi­ness to the table.”

We can set the tone for the next gen­er­a­tion that will be enjoy­ing this prod­uct, that will be learn­ing more about it than we ever knew.- Kevin O’Connor

His first job as a teenager was in a wine bar where he con­vinced the owner to let him help out in the kitchen. At school he wore his exhaus­tion from cook­ing all night like a badge of honor,” he recently told Olive Oil Times pub­lisher Curtis Cord for the On Olive Oil pod­cast.

From there he would rise to become a well-known chef in the state’s cap­i­tal city, land­ing an exec­u­tive chef spot at an acclaimed restau­rant, Blackbird at just 23 years of age.

Those restau­rants are just very, very cut­throat, and I’ve kind of built my career on fol­low­ing what would make me hap­pi­est,” O’Connor said. It’s sim­i­lar to high fash­ion. But, you know, at some point you’re going to want to come home and wear sweat­pants.”

Eventually the fine-din­ing grind led him to escape to the coun­try­side in Montana where he learned the finer skills of for­ag­ing: There are cer­tain ways of iden­ti­fy­ing things like mush­rooms. For instance, you can do what they call a spore print. You’ll take off the stem and lay the cap on a piece of paper, and each mush­room has a unique spore print, almost like a thumbprint.”

He returned to a slew of high-end Bay Area gigs, includ­ing one for a Cobram Estate event. Did this lunch, hit it out of the park, had an amaz­ing time. They were real keen to con­tinue work­ing together. We weren’t really sure in which way. It’s not like Cobram Estate had this open­ing for Chef at Large’ and put it up on LinkedIn or some­thing like that,” he said.

Kicking back some beers, we had been doing that for a few hours, so you can imag­ine where we’re at. Just going off, Man, wouldn’t it be cool if we could do this?’ and, Wouldn’t it be cool if we could do that?’ ”

Now, the 27-year-old is the Chef at Large for Cobram Estate, the renowned olive oil pro­ducer from Australia that recently set up shop in nearby Woodland, California.

It’s opened up a whole new world for me. It’s been amaz­ing. I really thought that it was just another ingre­di­ent, but now it’s become the star of the show in all my cook­ing. I’m just enam­ored with olive oil, and its his­tory, and its cul­ture, and culi­nary uses have just … it’s made my cook­ing so much bet­ter.”

You don’t think of some­thing so ancient as olive oil still being so undis­cov­ered, you know? I’m just so excited to really plant my roots here, and help edu­cate peo­ple, and just con­tinue cook­ing with these awe­some, awe­some oils.”

O’Connor has spent the last few months learn­ing all he can about olive oil in Australia and California, where he has been cook­ing for press events and har­vest tours, and he wants no less than to help estab­lish what he sees as the nascent California olive oil cul­ture.

You know, in Greece, and Italy and Spain, there’s such a rich olive oil cul­ture, and what’s so excit­ing about being here in California is we can help build that cul­ture. We can be a part of it. We can set the tone for the next gen­er­a­tion that will be enjoy­ing this prod­uct, that will be learn­ing more about it than we ever knew, that will be reap­ing the health ben­e­fits for a longer life than we’ll be able to live. So to kind of set the tone for this olive oil cul­ture in California is my next main goal.”

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