Twenty-five years since starting World Gardens, Theo Stephan isn’t any much less obsessed with her mission to evangelise the glories of fine olive oil. With all of her enterprise — the essential membership membership work, retail, product improvement, tastings, cooking courses — unified below one roof in a vibrant Santa Ynez cottage, Stephan appears happy. Ever an educator, she says she’s achieved her aim “when folks style actual meals and notice how easy and straightforward it’s, particularly the place we’re in California. It’s far reaching — the story of olive oil goes again; you’ll be able to see olive leaves pressed in Paleolithic stones.”
That doesn’t imply her work has at all times been a bit of scrumptious olive oil cake. “Whereas our twenty fifth anniversary of being Santa Barbara County’s first and most awarded olive oil producer is a very massive deal to me,” she additionally factors out the harder aspect of a enterprise, “Twenty-five years of local weather change — belief me it’s a difficulty! — and perseverance as a single mother, with pink tape far and wide.”
These following the places of her bodily enterprise have needed to carry on their toes. In 2003 there was a tasting counter at Buttonwood Farm in Solvang; in 2006 she had her first brick and mortar spot on Alamo Pintado in Los Olivos, “however that acquired out of sight,” she recollects in regards to the lease. Subsequent up was a brief café in Los Alamos (now Babi’s Beer Emporium) till 2014, when her household farm stand on the outskirts of Los Olivos grew to become the spot. When that grew too fashionable for its parking areas, she seemed elsewhere, and the Santa Ynez location opened up. “To land right here has been a present, we love Santa Ynez,” she says.
Among the many thrilling new choices are hands-on cooking courses the place members, below Stephan’s watchful eye, do every thing from construct and bake spanakopita to toss-together terrific tzatziki. And even higher, they get to benefit from the fruits of their labors afterwards. All of the recipes function World Gardens merchandise, in fact, particularly the olive oil. “Olive oil brings out the flavour of what you’re making,” Stephan says. “I like butter, but it surely masks no matter it’s on. Positive it’s scrumptious, however … .”
To clarify all olive oil has to supply, World Gardens has revamped its tastings, too. As one in every of solely 300 licensed olive oil sommeliers on the planet, Stephan has skilled all of her workers on tips on how to take guests by way of the vary of oils they provide, some massive and fruity just like the Nocellara del Belice “GaGa,” others delicate and grassy just like the Arbequina. She says, “We actually wish to educate folks on regional terroir in olive oil.”
Nodding to her Greek heritage, Stephan has coined and trademarked the time period “Caliterranean” for the meals she favors. “California is such a giant state, and we do have our personal meals tradition,” she insists. “So this time period is also an acknowledgement of the Mediterranean affect on our cooks.” She does admit that individuals, together with the hosts of Hallmark’s Residence & Household Present when she did a cooking demo again in 2013, stumble over announcing the phrase a bit. She jokes, “Possibly the time period will likely be my gravestone epitaph.”
However that grave is a great distance away. As a part of the twenty fifth anniversary celebration, World Gardens has a collection of pop-up visitor chef appearances deliberate, from an upcoming Greek taverna night time with a visiting chef from Los Angeles to final month’s go to from Meals Community superstar Evanice Holz, who introduced her Cuban vegan Señoreata expertise to Santa Ynez. Stephan is fast to level out that Holz’s meals will not be solely scrumptious however, “She’s been a longtime membership member, in order that’s why we hosted her.”
Stephan additionally has loads of native connections: a September occasion will happen on the new Mattei’s Tavern, the place Chef Rhoda Magbitang will create a multi-course dinner utilizing World Gardens oils and vinegars.
Stephan is as massive a booster for vinegars as olive oils — her first cookbook was titled Olive Oil and Vinegar for Life, in spite of everything. At present she’s engaged on a 3rd cookbook, which she plans to name Acid Events. “Now we have means an excessive amount of sugar on our palates, masking our palates,” she asserts. Having a bunch of co-managers has given her extra time to develop the venture, penciled in for a fall 2024 launch. “This will likely be my most assorted cookbook up to now,” she says. “There could be some meals poetry in there, too!” (Poetry is one in every of her non-work loves; she even learn on the 2016 Spirits within the Air annual poetry gathering.)
The cookbook is only one a part of World Backyard’s development, as its product line continues to develop past its 40 present objects, starting from lavender therapeutic massage oil to Marvel Walnuts. That was a part of the impetus for Stephan to carry full-time chef Lisa Thompson on board. “She most likely is aware of the product line higher than I do at this level,” says Stephan of her resident chef. World Gardens will get to run take a look at batches of merchandise by membership members first, the newest being olive oil crackers. One technique to maintain a enterprise for therefore lengthy is conserving loyal clients, and Stephan appreciates that: “The membership clients are our core, and we don’t have plenty of attrition with them.”
Admitting that over twenty years in enterprise, together with weathering a world pandemic, has meant World Gardens “has been caught in entrepreneurial whirlwinds and vortexes,” she additionally claims, “An important factor, as corny because it sounds, is de facto centering on the current.” Praising her long-term workers for conserving the enterprise pleasantly afloat, Stephan sums up, “Now we have been in a position to be philosophical about our errors. It’s that outdated cliché of leaping into the horsey poo and popping out smelling like olive oil.”
World Gardens Tastings & Provisions Store, 3570 Madera St., Santa Ynez. Open 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. each day, globalgardensonline.com.