THE HEADLINE of a recent James Beard column read: "Olive Oil: An Old Friend returns." The old friend is Old Monk, a brand that disappeared in the early 1970s. Beard wrote fondly of the oil and its distinctive can, which bore the profile of a monk and a branch of olives, then announced that it was being sold again. What he failed to add was the location of the Old Monk company -- Washington, D.C.
Old Monk's oil and mustards come from France, company president Vincent Dole explained one day last week. The distinctive ripe olives he sells come from California. So why Washington? "It's a convenient place to do business," Dole answered. He is able to telephone both France and california from his office on Farragut Square during normal working hours and travel in either direction is easy. "But the real reason," he added, "is that I'm East Coast oriented and to me this is the most exciting town on the East Coast."
Dole himself isn't a stereotype food merchant or salesman. At 35, he gave up a career in international banking and, with the help of his French wife, Genevieve, relaunched Old Monk. "The company was started by my grandfather [also Vincent Dole] at about the turn of the century," Dole recounted. "He lived in Chicago, but has olive properties in France and California. He sold oil and olives. He also produced the finest of specialty food items (Beard called Old Monk's 'the best bottled mayannaise I ever tasted'). But it was a very personal business. He supervised everything. When he died [in 1972 at the age of 93], the family decided that rather than sell the name and risk having inferior products sold under the Old Monk name, they would close the company."
Inquiries kept coming, though, from customers and retailers, which prompted young Vincent Dole to "investigate" restarting the company.
"The local producers outside Nice all remembered my grandfather and were willing to sell to us. That's the only way we could have done it because the supply is very limited."
Dole is quick to point out that Old Monk is French "extra virgin" olive oil. This is the highest of the three grades. It comes from a low-yield, first pressing of the olives and contains no additives or preservatives. "Virgin" olive oil has a higher acid content. "Pure" olive oil, according to Dole, comes from a second pressing. Much more oil is extracted. Initially it will contain more of the pulp, skin and particles of pit, all of which contribute a bitter taste to the oil. The oil then is "washed" with hot water or given a chemical treatment to extract or neutralize the bitterness.
The other current Old Monk products are a Dijon and a natural seed mustard and "super colossal" olives from California groves the elder Vincent Dole helped plant. Reintroducing some others, such as mayonnaise, tartar sauce and salad dressings, is under consideration. "But we'll only put something out if it is distinctive better than others of the same type," Dole said.
So far Old Monk oil has done well in comparative tastings and has struck a responsive chord with older cooks who knew it previously. Dole's challenge as he sees it, is to tempt a younger generation of cooks to try Old Monk products. So far, they are available at La Cuisine and Coffee, Tea and Spice in Alexandria, at Larimer's and The French Market in the District, and at the Chevy Chase Supermarket. By next month they will be on the shelves of many Safeway stores in the area. Current prices for the oil range from $5.50 to $6 for an outsized pint to about $10 for an outsized quart.
L'Academie de Cuisine is sponsoring its second annual Bastille Day cooking contest on July 12. Open to the first 40) applicants, amateur or professional the first prize is a round-trip air ticket to Paris, France. Other prizes include the Time/Life series, "The Good Cook," a series of 10 cooking lessons at L'Academie, dinner for two at the Rive Gauche restaurant, some Calphalon cookware and for the runners-up, mini classes at L'Academie.
Entries will be judged according to taste, creativity and presentation by a panel of three chefs. Entry blanks are available at L'Academie, 5021 Wilson La., Bethesda. They must be submitted with an entry fee of $5.
A display of the entries will be open to the public at L'Academie on July 12 from 5 to 8 p.m. for a fee of $1.Hors d'oeuvres and kir will be served but the contending food is off limits.
Sam Goolsby, the great Georgia outdoorsman and cook, has written a new book that will interest hunters and those who cook for hunters. It is called "The Great Southern Wild Game Cookbook." In addition to recipes for standard game , Goolsby writes about cooking armadillo, alligator and possum, and gives instructions for field dressing, cutting and curing meat. The book is available for $13.95, plus $1 for handling, from Pelican Publishing Company, 1101 Monroe St., Gretna, La. 70053.
For those who like their game tame, the Pel-Freez people in Arkansas have collected some unusual and sophisticated recipes for rabbit. Pel-Freeze claims to be the oldest domestic producer of rabbit in this country. Their 16-page booklet is available without cost by sending a request with name and address to Pel-Freez Rabbit Meat, Inc., P.O. Box 68, Rogers, Ark. 72756.
How many of the cooking tools of the '80s have you seen, bought or used? In a presentation for the National Association of Food Editors and Writers, the staff of the Kitchen Bazaar demonstrated these 10 "hot" new items: Maxim convection oven, Cuisinart expanded feed tube, Terraillon salt dispenser, Potpourri gift-giving tins, Bialetti "tuttopasta" machine and attachments, pasta drying racks, a digital scale, a large-size adjustable steamer rack, ceramic butter mold forms and the Pick A Party hors d'oeuvres maker. Not surprisingly, all these items are sold at the Kitchen Bazaar and many of them will be found else-where as well.