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A Taste of EVO

September 09, 1993|KATHIE JENKINS

EVO is restaurant kitchen slang for extra-virgin olive oil, and it's also the name of chef Thomas Keller's new California-produced olive oil, the latest to join the array of bottled oils on gourmet grocery shelves.

For Keller, who cooked complicated food at Checkers restaurant in downtown Los Angeles until a year ago, olive oil has become an obsession. He even hand-picked the angled, deep-green bottle for his oil--in Italy.

"I couldn't find an American bottle that did anything for me," Keller says.

Plus, he didn't want a clear bottle, even though olive oils are often poured into clear glass containers to show off their pretty green hues. "Clear glass is a marketing gimmick," Keller says. "Americans think the greener the oil the better, but that's not always true. And the minute the olive oil is poured into clear bottles, it begins to deteriorate. Ultraviolet light is harmful to oil. To be protected, olive oil must be in darkness."

EVO is made from California's Mission, Manzanilla and Sevillano olives--Keller believes the assortment contributes to the oil's complexity. Keller gets the oil after the olives are cold-pressed in the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys. He then blends the unfiltered oils until he gets an oil that satisfies him in both flavor and consistency. The resulting oil has a nice olive front with a little spice in the end.

A lot of people have compared EVO to Italian oil. "It's comparing apples to oranges," Keller says. "They are no better or no worse. Just different."

In fact, Keller believes everyone should stock two or three olive oils: a peppery Tuscan to top risotto or soup, and a milder Spanish variety on food you don't want overwhelmed. Keller likes his own oil on salads or drizzled on crusty bread. "But I don't use it to saute fish," he says. "You don't need an extra-virgin olive oil to do that."

EVO, available at 36 Southern California gourmet markets, retails at approximately $18 for a 750 - milliliter (25 1/2-ounce) bottle.

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