The olive-themed appetizers at an upcoming food and wine festival in Los Olivos are virtually endless. Smoked olives, olive relish soup, olive rosemary pistachio biscotti, olive and oregano white bean hummus with sea salt and olive pita chips—the list goes on and on.
Attendees of the 17th annual Los Olivos Jazz and Olive Festival on Saturday, June 10, can look forward to said offerings and many more appetizers from the event’s participating chefs, as well as wine tastings from several featured vintners and wineries.
The Los Olivos Rotary Club has held the event annually, minus a two-year gap during the pandemic, for about the past two decades to help raise funds to support various causes, said Dave Bemis, chair of the event.
“This is our one fundraiser of the year. We turn the money we receive into grants for nonprofits all year,” Bemis told the Sun. “That’s why the event is important to us, as it’s our only source of charitable giving.”
“The whole thing was started with the idea that Los Olivos means ‘the olives,’” Bemis added. “Historically there were more olive groves around here than there are now, but there are still some.”
This year’s event marks Bemis’ first go-round as the festival’s chair, but he’s been a helper at the fundraiser in other capacities over the past decade. For many previous events, Bemis was put in charge of recruiting the festival’s featured vintners.
“We recruit 30 wineries from Santa Barbara County to pour tastings, and we recruit 30 amateur chefs to create appetizers,” Bemis explained. “So each of our booths has one person pouring wine and another serving food.”
All food and wine offerings at the event are included with the $100 price of admission. Upon entering, attendees get a wristband and are then free to roam around the outdoor festival as they please, Bemis said.
“You get in, you get 30 tastings—or 60 tastings, if you want to double-up and go around twice,” Bemis said with a laugh. “The cost of tasting at individual tasting rooms has just gone crazy. For $100, you could not taste at more than two or three vineyards these days. So we try to keep the price reasonable. It’s a great deal.”
While the festival’s featured chefs handle the olive aspect of the Los Olivos Jazz and Olive Festival, it’s up to Los Angeles-based jazz singer Denise Donatelli and her group of background musicians to provide the jazz.
“The lineup changes from year to year, but she always brings top-shelf professional musicians from LA with her,” Bemis said.
A multi-Grammy Award nominee, Donatelli and her group will perform at the one-day festival between 1 and 4 p.m.
A handful of olive oil vendors will also be on-site during the fundraiser, including one husband-and-wife team that will host an additional olive-themed program of their own the following day, at the Santa Ynez Valley Historical Museum.
John and Shannon Copelend, the owners of Rancho Olivos, will lead a pop-up talk and olive oil tasting at the museum on Sunday, June 11, from 1 to 4 p.m.
“They are some of our longtime olive oil vendors at our festival,” Bemis said of the couple, who own an olive grove and extra virgin olive oil tasting room in Santa Ynez and another tasting room in Morro Bay.
Admission to the Copelands’ talk is free for members of the Santa Ynez Valley Historical Museum, and $5 for nonmembers.
While the Copelands and other olive oil vendors sell their goods at the festival, the event’s featured appetizer chefs will not only dish out their offerings to guests but compete for awards from a panel of judges.
Bemis said the goal of winning either first, second, or third place at the festival is one of the incentives the Rotary Club promotes when recruiting chefs to participate in the event.
The chefs participating in the fundraiser are nicknamed “O Chefs,” Bemis added.
Each year, the festival’s olive-themed appetizers from competing O Chefs are judged anonymously in a blind tasting, Bemis explained.
“We have runners who go to all 30 booths and get samples of the appetizers,” Bemis said. “The plates are numbered on the bottom, so nobody can see whose is whose.”
Arts Editor Caleb Wiseblood will circle the 30 booths at least thrice. Send comments to [email protected].