May 27, 2008
Olive Oil: More Binding Than Slippery?

Well, that was interesting. I've just come from the opening reception of the 2008 Los Angeles International Wine & Spirits Competition. As much of a mouthful as that is, it doesn't completely describe the competition that gets under way on the grounds of the Los Angeles County Fair in Pomona tomorrow. One of the world's larger olive-oil judgings also will commence at 8:30 a.m. The chairman of the olive-oil judging is Sacramento grocer Darrell Corti. During this evening's reception, he introduced me to Dr. Gino Celletti of Milan, one of the olive-oil judges. Dr. Celletti had arrived in Los Angeles from Beijing, where in another month or so he will open Olive Oil Restaurant Cafe.

An Italian restaurant in the capital of China, home to one of the world's other classic cuisines, raises a question or two. Like, why? Well, explained Dr. Celletti, Beijing also is home to a huge number of millionaires, many of whom seem infatuated with interntional cuisines and have the disposable income to pursue their interest. What's more, they are particularly keen on European foods and wines. And then, of course, there's the upcoming Olympics, which will attract all sorts of Europeans and Americans who likely will welcome an opportunity to eat foods with which they are more familiar than traditional Chinese dishes.

These are all practical business reasons for opening a restaurant in Beijing, but Dr. Celletti, who is involved in the making and marketing of olive oil when he isn't launching restaurants in unlikely locales, has an artistic impulse that he's applying to dishes in the Beijing restaurant. The menu he showed me is as long and detailed as some textbooks at UC Davis, with each of the individual chapters devoted to the olive oils and dishes of individual Italian provinces. From Liguria, for example, the indigenous olive Razzola is used in a pesto tossed with pasta and potatoes. From Emilia Romagna, the olive Brisighella is used with sliced beef served with a cake based on the cheese Parmigiano and a sauce based on the grape sangiovese. And so it goes.

We read and hear a lot these days about economic globalization. Dr. Celletti looks to have taken that concept to heart, and if the Chinese realize as much joy from Italian olive oil and the Italian culinary arts as the rest of the world, well, that would seem to be an encouraging development for a broadened international consciousness.

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