I know a thing or two about olives. There are the green and the black ones, and they grow on pretty green trees. They also make very tasty appetisers, either on a small plate or in my vodka martini. Ok, I admit, I am not an expert when it comes to olives. And can I just say, all that changed very recently.
I was invited to the finals of Olive it! Catering College Competition 2015. The competition was run by Olive it! – a European organisation set up to promote olives and the versatility of this simple fruit. The evening was held at The Good Housekeeping Institute in London, tucked away in an alleyway in London’s Soho. The restaurant was buzzing with families of the young budding chefs, and you could really feel the heat in the room, the air oozing with excitement and pride. In a true ‘Masterchef’ style, eight finalists were competing against time to prepare a three-course meal, all of which, and you guest it, contained olives in some shape or form. To me, a seemingly an impossible task, left me wondering about the dessert.
The competition was judged by some of the biggest industry experts, including a TV Chef Omar Allibhoy and Maria Jose Sevilla, director of Foods and Wines from Spain, Spanish author and presenter.
Our meal was deliciously prepared by Anna Johnston from Sunderland College. Anna made a starter of Picholine Marinade with Fresh Tomato Salsa, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Thyme and Garlic served with Olive Bruchette. The main was Spanish-style Roast Chicken with Peppers, Sautéed Vegetables in Olive Oil and finely chopped Manzanilla Olives. The dessert, an Almond Olive Oil Cake with Olive Gelato, was especially intriguing and the biggest surprise of the evening for me. A simple sponge cake with a hint of olive oil and almonds arrived on a plate accompanied by a serving of gelato and freshly peeled orange slices. It was in every sense delightful.
However, there could only be one winner. Kieran McGarrigle, 18, from Westminster Kingsway College, London, scooped the crown, followed by James McGrath, 17, from Colchester Institute and Louis Chisholm, 17, in Colchester in a joined second place.
As well as receiving an all-inclusive gastronomic weekend for two in Spain worth £4,000 and £400 worth of chef’s professional equipment of his choosing, Kieran will have the opportunity to work at Omar Alliboy’s award winning restaurant Tapas Revolution for a week.
Kieran said: “I feel very honoured to have won the competition. I found it a thrilling experience to be competing against many talented young chefs. To be able to see dishes that were just ideas I had, to be developed into a dish with the added complexity of having to use olives in every course was an exciting challenge and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the versatility that can come from a simple olive. I am greatly looking forward to being able to work in Omar’s restaurant and being able to go to Spain is an added bonus as I wish to be to able to work in Spain in my future career. I would like to say thank you to all the judges and the organising team for choosing me to compete and be chosen as the winner was something I will always remember!”
Omar Allibhoy said: “The competition was all about the students demonstrating their creativity, flair and passion in the kitchen and I was impressed by the high standard across all the finalists’ dishes. Kieran’s menu revolutionised the idea of a ‘conventional table olive’ and he demonstrated how olives are more than just a pre-dinner snack. Kieran showcased the olive as an exciting and delicious addition to a dish when combined with other ingredients.
I’m looking forward to Kieran working in my restaurant and I can’t wait to see what innovative ideas he comes up with next.”
For more information about the competition, Olive it! and inspiring recipe ideas, visit oliveit.eu.