Archive for the ‘Olive oil’ Category

Did you miss the Condiment Circus?

Chef Julia

Chef Julia at the Tasting Bar

I had the opportunity last week to teach a seminar on the trade show floor of the largest specialized catering and events conference in the United States, held at Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas, and at the Las Vegas Convention Center.  Another chef was designated to teach this class, but was not available due to prior commitments, so I got the call.  It was a great opportunity to summarize some of the flavor profile trends we have been seeing out here in California, and how they can be applied to catering menus for large and small caterers across the country.

The first step in preparation was to Google this year’s food trends, though I was pretty confident that I knew what I would find.  Many “new” ideas for the rest of the country have been on our menus in California for a couple of years, due to our vibrant and innovative restaurant scene and a heavy focus on diversity and local and sustainable foods.  The usual things popped up, “farm-to-table”, small artisan producers, all the buzzwords.  But how to translate this to a seminar entitled “The Condiment Circus:  Three Rings of Flavor”?  I set down the laptop and headed to our pantry to see what was on the shelf.

In the pantry, I found Gochujang (Korean fermented chili paste), Mae Ploy Sweet Chili Sauce, gluten-free hoisin sauce from Wok Mei, a large bottle of Vietnamese fish sauce, salted Japanese dried plums (umeboshi), and a quart jar of preserved Meyer lemons that we use in preparing our vegetable tagine.  Digging further, I found all-natural liquid smoke and blackstrap molasses, which we use to approximate the flavor of bacon in vegan preparations, and an assortment of finishing salts.  On the counter were a full slate of Stella Cadente Olive Oil’s crushed flavored California oils, and more salts and salt blends.  A trip to the reach-in yielded our Korean BBQ sauce, house-made Romesco and a couple of jars of fruit mostarda that we prepared to accompany roast pork.  Now I had a basis for a seminar on condiments.

A list was assembled for the event organizers (all the condiments had to be readily available, either through foodservice distribution or via the internet, mostly from Amazon Prime).  Many of the caterers at this conference were rural and small market, like myself, and did not have access to the well-stocked ethnic grocers found in larger urban areas.  I dug through my recipe files, and came up with half a dozen recipes, complete with photos, of ways to integrate these condiments and flavor profiles without scaring our clients into the woods.  I included the recipe for the Korean BBQ sauce, plus a couple of recipes for appetizers using it.  A recipe for a baby chicory and beet salad with a robust vinaigrette pulled in the Blood orange olive oil and the sweet chili sauce.  Of course, the crowning glory would be our vegan eggplant “bacon”, a recipe inspired by a Pinterest find when researching vegan brunch ideas.  I added our recipe for Romesco, even though we would be tasting a retail version, and a couple more photos of dishes using some of the other items such as the finishing salts.

The main focus of the seminar was to have the attendees taste each of the condiments, then taste some of the foods derived from them.  This meant tons of little dishes and spoons that had to be laid out in order in the back of the house, set for 30-50 attendees.  Setup took me most of an hour and a half, but we were finally ready.  Up to the mike, assistants all set to pass out the tasting portions and off we go.

The first taste was the Gochujang, a fermented bean and chili paste from Korean that is as ubiquitous as catsup is in the United States.  It has a nice heat, balanced with the complexity of fermentation, and strong notes of umami.  It was accompanied by a taste of the Korean BBQ sauce, made based on the Gochujang.  The sauce also included brown sugar, tamari, toasted sesame oil and rice vinegar.  Everyone loved how the other sauce components tempered the heat and the resultant sauce could be used in a variety of ways.

The second taste was the Thai Mae Ploy Sweet Chili Sauce.  This was an easy one for most of the attendees, as it has a nice balance of sweetness, heat and acidity.  This was followed by the Vietnamese fish sauce, which can be used as a shelf stable substitute for anchovy in many recipes.  Next up was the Japanese salt-dried plum, which we use to flavor steamed sticky rice as a side dish for Asian inspired pork dishes.  While the plum itself is salty and astringent, the finished rice reflects the subtle fruitiness and aromatics of the plum.  The last Asian inspired taste was the hoisin, noted as a great way to bring Asian flavors to BBQ sauces.

On the same spoon as the hoisin, the attendees tasted blackstrap molasses, as a segue into the north American market basket.  They noted the similarities in the flavors, bitter plus sweet plus umami, and how each culture used these flavors in certain ways.  They then were given a tiny spoon of the liquid smoke.  We discussed the recognizable flavors in bacon and other preserved pork product (salty, sweet, bitter, smoky) and we presented a taste of the vegan “bacon”, thinly sliced eggplant painted with a mixture of the molasses, liquid smoke, maple syrup and tamari, then baked in a low oven until crisp.

We followed the bacon with the flavored olive oils, both the Blood orange and the basil, and discussed how these could not only be incorporated into dressings, but used as sauce replacements and in marinades.

We then moved to the old-world market basket, with hot harissa and the preserved lemons from Morocco, discussing the use of these condiments across the southern and eastern Mediterranean.  Everyone was struck by the influence of the Arabic world in even new world cuisines.  The next taste was traditional Mostarda di Frutta; whole baby fruit preserved in sugar syrup and hot mustard from northern Italy.  Noticing the likeness to chutney, the attendees were quick to grasp how this could be flexible enough to move from the cheese and charcuterie plate to the entrée, especially with roast meats such as chicken and pork.

The last tastes we enjoyed were the finishing salts.  We presented two Hawaiian salts, the dusty pink Ali’i and the black lava salt.  Both are great for garnishing, both with color and their earthy mineral flavors.  We love using the pink salt on a big basket tray of steamed edamame, and use the black salt in many of our passed appetizer where the color is a counterpoint to the ingredients presented.  The next salts tasted were our house-made duck salt and porcini mushroom salt, and we discussed using our spice grinder to prepare these from on-hand ingredients.  A very effective method to use when layering flavors.  Our example was a recipe for duck confit risotto; made with duck stock, shredded confit duck meat, sautéed in duck fat, and topped with a quenelle of duck foie gras.  The finishing touch was a sprinkling with duck salt (the rendered skin pulverized in the food processor then mixed with kosher salt).  The last salt tasted was SaltWork’s Salish alder-smoked sea salt.  We use this salt frequently to finish plates of roasted or grilled meats, especially beef, as it brings out the flavor of the cooking method in a subtle way.

Discussion ensued during the question and answer period about the differences and commonalities in the various cultures and their condiments.  Everyone left with new ideas and inspirations to take back to their own kitchens.  For presentation materials, see below.  Contact us via email at for recipes.  For information about Catersource/Event Solutions conference and trade show, click here.


Condiment Circus


Gochujang:  Korean fermented hot pepper sauce (hot, fermented)

Thai Sweet Chili Sauce (Mae Ploy):  Southeast Asian chili pepper jam (hot, sweet)

Natural Liquid Smoke: (bitter, smokiness)

Blackstrap Molasses: (bitter, sweet)

Flavored Olive Oils ( (umami, fruit notes, herb notes)

Romesco:  Spanish sauce of almonds, bread, tomato, paprika, peppers (umami)

Harissa (Mustapha’s):  Moroccan chili paste (heat)

Preserved Lemon (Mustapha’s):  Moroccan salt pickled whole sweet lemons (acid, salt fermented)

Fish Sauce:  Southeast Asian, made from fermented small fish (umami, fermented)

Umeboshi:  Japanese salt dried “pickled” plums (sour, sweet, salt)

Hoisin (Wok Mei is gluten free):  Chinese “BBQ” sauce, fermented beans with soy, rock sugar (umami, sweet)

Mostarda:  Northern Italian fruit preserved in syrup with mustard seed (sweet, hot)

Finishing Salts (  smoked, meat flavored (duck), mushroom, herb (salt, various flavors)

All of these condiments can be used to layer flavors in a dish, bring out specific notes in the flavor profiles, replicate flavors from other types of foods, enhance specific elements of flavor such as umami, sweetness, astringency and acidity.

Condiments available on Amazon Prime unless otherwise noted.


Post by Julia Conway on March 22nd, 2016

Local Market Stories



Being in the sustainable food business in a small town and rural neighborhood is both an inspiration and a challenge. One of the vendors from our local farmers’ market was banned a few weeks ago, ostensibly because they were not “local.” Of course, the stories surrounding the incident vary, based on who you ask, but the basic thread is that the vendor did not “follow the rules” and was from <gasp> Duarte. The contraband in question was stone fruit; apricots, peaches, nectarines, cherries, you know, the hard stuff! A vendor friend noted that they had UPC stickers on their fruit, a sure sign of the conventional commoditized food system; surely not a sign of a small, artisan producer? I reflect on the bar coded UPC’s on my own olive oil bottles, a similar litmus test? Many of us as small producers must court multiple sales channels in order to survive. Grocery equals UPC codes; non-negotiable in their world. Even my local customers prefer to purchase our olive oil in their local grocery store, hence the dance with the devil. Without UPC’s and a distributor, the grocery channel is virtually closed to the small producer.

We define local, here on the Mendocino Coast, as somewhere between 100 and 150 miles circumference. This allows us the grains and beans cultivated in the central valley, while still preserving the intrinsic relationship between farmer and customer. My sister lives in the suburbs of Washington, DC, and in her world, local is within 800 miles circumference. In the urban mid-Atlantic, small farms are harder to find. We are spoiled here in California, where farmers live within driving distance of urban markets. Many of us take for granted the cornucopia of regional produce displayed at our local farmers’ markets. Here in Mendocino County, this bounty is limited to the months of May through October, when the certified markets are active. If we wish to partake in seasonal winter vegetables, locally produced, a CSA is often our only option. We are fortunate here in Fort Bragg to have a relationship with a year-around CSA farm. Not everyone is so lucky. In fact, one of the reasons that the disputed produce vendor was even in our local market was to supply fresh items in winter not available in our more severe climate zone.
A successful farmers’ market is a vibrant and diverse market. Thus defines the dilemma. Do we limit the market to only local vendors, and, for that matter, one vendor per commodity? While an ideal situation for the producer, this limits the customers’ choices, and, as a result, their patronage of the market. More choices = more customers, and more customers = higher sales for market vendors. Somehow this equation does not hold true with our local market association. The “rules” supersede the customer. But, what is a market without a customer? By definition, a market exists when a seller and a buyer agree on an exchange for a particular commodity. Without these components, a market does not technically exist. Our lesson; make the maximum variety of commodities available to the consumer. The market will sustain itself. If the commodity has no value to the customer, then the market, or the vendor, will fail. 
Open markets promote open minds. We must trust the market forces to drive the equilibrium. If a commodity has no demand, and therefore no value, the market will demonstrate to the vendor that they cannot sustain their participation. Almost Darwinian, those who succeed have the characteristics of success. If your product has value, it will be reflected by the customer as increased sales. No need for oversight, no need for regulation, the force of the market prevails. If there is a buyer and a seller, there is a market. It is not about the random regulatory boundaries exercised by an outside entity. We must reflect on this basic principle of commerce and embrace the essence of its power.
No matter how you define “local” or “regional.” It is about buyers mated with sellers exchanging the value of a given commodity. This is the essence of the freedom of choice characterized in a market economy. 
To one customer, located somewhere west of the Mississippi, but where olives are not cultivated, my product might be considered “local.” Yet in a market less than 200 miles away, where olives trees are more common, it is disqualified on the same criteria. It is not about the random geographical boundaries. It is about access to clean, fair and healthy foods. Something we Californians take for granted, but perhaps should not. Every producer is an artisan of sort; and is it our privilege to categorize and judge, or should we simply fulfill our role as buyer, and let our choices speak the truth instead?
Post by Julia Conway on July 21st, 2009