David Andersen | Taste the Olive
Five Minutes with David Andersen, Taste the Olive:
“The health benefits are through the roof, the flavor profiles are awesome, your palate never gets tired of them. There’s always something different you can make with olive oil.“
Out of the frying pan, into the… oil
Before Taste the Olive, I was kitchen manager at Macaroni Grill at Mayfaire, came into work one day and didn’t have a job. I saw this little place across the street [at the Forum], and went in there and saw the olive oils, the vinegars, sea salts, rubs… really unique things for a Wilmington shop. I went in to just have a glass of wine and some food, and two days later, I’m working in the place as retail manager. I did that for two years, and when the previous owner needed to relocate, she sold the business to me. I had no idea that the world of olive oils was so wonderful, and that there were so many of them. I absolutely love olives and olive oils. The same thing with the balsamics. The aged balsamics are amazing. And I had no idea. I’m always learning and getting excited about new products.
One of the goals of Taste the Olive is to educate our customers, and help them use oils and vinegars more creatively. I’m constantly changing things around in the store, so customers wander around a bit, and branch out. Lots of people come in and know exactly what they want to buy, so the challenge is to make suggestions on trying something new. I started putting recipes on top of the olive oils and balsamics… and people can take them home and make them in just 5 minutes – they’re easy-level – with just one or two more ingredients. People love recipes and suggestion cards, and I like to send them home with a new olive oil, or a unique balsamic. That’s how I educate.
Retail chops, with a food service bent
I went to culinary school. I’ve been in this business since I was 12, though. My mom’s a chef, my dad’s a chef, my uncle’s a chef. My thing in the kitchen? My palate’s always changing, and I do whatever I want. In the summertime, I do a lot of grilling. Shrimp, oysters, all the foods we can take advantage of here in Wilmington. In the winter, it’s pot roast and gravies. I’m a big meat-and-potatoes guy. It’s always something fun, and there’s always an olive oil in my house. Always a vinegar.
Some days I miss being in a restaurant kitchen. My days now – while they’re busy mentally, with keeping on top of social media, and keeping an eye out for all the new products, and all the things Taste the Olive could carry – my days seem very busy, but there are times when I miss being, like, 80 tickets in the weeds and someone’s yelling at you. It’s a big difference on my Friday and Saturday nights. I go home at 7 o’clock. I was used to working until midnight on Friday and Saturdays, and everyone yelling, “Where’s my dish!” “I can’t believe this customer!” Now I go home, I watch a movie. I’m like, this is so different. We do 3/4 of our business November and December, and it’s crazy busy so that when January rolls around it’s a relief, but retail-busy is still no way near as busy as food-service-busy.
An infusion of creativity
We just started this thing called Around the World Wine Tastings at Taste the Olive, and we feature two countries a month. People come in and they get to taste a wine from that country, and I pair a little appetizer with that wine. I incorporate our olive oils and balsamics. For instance, we have South Africa coming up, and there will be 5 South African wines paired with South African tapas dishes. Those events are usually 20-40 people, and we charge $40 per person. It’s a lot of fun. Wine reps come in and showcase what they have in their wine portfolios, and the project of pairing that with foods that feature our oils and vinegars is amazing.
When I do the pairings here, I do everything: the planning, the cooking, the promoting. I’m never far from the kitchen. Being a small business owner, it’s kind of a rock-and-a-hard-place thing, I don’t have the money to hire lots of full time people, so most of the time it’s me. I love it, though. I’m down here seven days a week, going at it the best I can. It’s fun that way. It keeps me on my game.
I’m always discovering new products. Right now I’m blown away by the great South African wines. Before there were a couple of wines, maybe a Pinotage, but now it’s kind of like Australia was a couple years ago. And the wines that are coming out of South Africa are unique and inexpensive – 8 to 9 dollars a bottle – and they are just wonderful wines. Uruguay is interesting for wines right now too. That got me going, like, can I do a Uruguayan food pairing. And I’m researching Uruguayan recipes. My inspiration goes both ways, sometimes I start with the food and go to the wine, other times, I go from the wine and then the food. Something here is always triggering my go-to.
About that wine with vinegars and oils thing
Well, if you are cooking with wine, you are actually getting the profiles of a good vinegar. These are balsamic vinegars, they are naturally sweet. So you get the acids, but the trick is to add a tablespoon of brown sugar, or other sweetener, and the vinegar bite is gone and you get the flavors. The downside is you’re adding sugar to your diet, but then the foods work with the wine you are serving. I make recommendations for all of your marinades: pork marinades, steak marinades, poultry marinades. We can help you do all sorts of wonderful things in your kitchen.
Olives… and olive oils… and balsamics… and wine… and more to come
One of the things we’re waiting on now is for the health inspections to come through and then we’ll get back to where we used to be: we used to carry 45 different types of cheese, and 18 different types of charcuterie, and we could make little cheese boards, and you could come in and have a cheese board with a glass of wine. At Taste the Olive, before we moved here, I was the cheesemonger. It was pretty neat, to have the background of working as a chef, and then come to Taste the Olive have so much fun, doing cheese and pairings. I didn’t know anything about cheese before this experience, except you used it on sandwiches. And in some salads. But then I found the world of knowledge of cheese, and I started studying that and my goal is to bring that back because that’s a lot of fun.
We’ve been open at Landfall Center for a little over a year now, and we’re doing small remodels as we go, and moving things around. It took us a lot to recoup. We didn’t think that moving just 500 yards would take us about a year to get back to where we were before. The difference is now also that we’ve added wine events, and cooking classes, oil and vinegar classes, private events… and we’re giving back to the community, participating in the Wilmington Wine and Food Festival, the Wilmington Chocolate Festival, we’re working with a nonprofit called Hope to hopefully develop some initiates to help homeless people here.
Browse the Taste the Olive website, and plan to head over and stock up on oils and vinegars for your pantry.