Sommeliers Waste No Time Sharing Their Knowledge

International Culinary Center Olive Oil Program graduates apply their expertise across networks and around the world.

John Canevari, owner of The Blue Olive in Pawling, New York
Mar. 22, 2017
By Wendy Logan
John Canevari, owner of The Blue Olive in Pawling, New York

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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.- Wilma van Grinsven, Oil & Vine­gar

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.”

Priscila Vejo

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.

Tassos Kyriakides

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.”

Wilma van Grinsven, owner of Oil & Vinegar

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.

Perola Polillo, Meu Bistro

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.

Blue Olive proprietor John Canevari (right)

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.

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