Interview with Sarah Ben Romdane, founder of the KAÏA olive oil brand

Each month, we meet a person we like, whose life or work revolves around food, to discuss their tips for a beautiful art of living.

Welcome to our Table Diary!

In September, we asked Sarah Ben Romdane, founder of KAÏA, an independent brand whose mission is to change the future of Tunisian olive oil, to answer our questions. Sarah produces certified organic extra-virgin olive oil from ancestral olives exclusively hand-picked in the Mahdia region of Tunisia. Sarah fell in love with our Tablier Soleil, handmade in our Atelier de la Table in Marseille, France, from antique fabrics selected one by one and reassembled in patchwork.

The transmission of hand-picked olives

Can you introduce yourself?

My name is Sarah Ben Romdane, I'm 29 and I produce olive oil in Tunisia, which I distribute through the brand I launched, KAÏA.

Can you tell us about your Kaïa brand and your love of olive oil?

KAÏA is an independent, family-run brand whose mission is to change the future of Tunisian olive oil. We produce certified organic extra virgin olive oil from ancestral olives picked exclusively by hand on our fifth-generation family estate in the Mahdia region, where we're originally from. When I went to Mahdia in the summer of 2020, after months of COVID-related confinement anxiety, I realized that there was something missing from my life in Paris. And that was a taste of the golden light of the Tunisian sun; a taste of home. Now, I pour KAÏA on literally all my dishes and it magically brings me closer to the Mediterranean and my childhood memories of summers in Tunisia. For me, olive oil is much more than just a drizzle on a salad. It's a way of life and, above all, a sacred ingredient that nourishes, heals and illuminates life.

More about Kaïa

Boosting the Tunisian terroir with olive oil

What's special about your olive oil?

The first thing is that it's proudly made in Tunisia. Most people don't know that Tunisia is the third largest producer of olive oil, and that's because major industrial players are taking advantage of the weakness of the Tunisian economy to buy olive oil in bulk at a lower price in Tunisia, then mix it with other olive oils and resell it under European brands without mentioning its origin. This situation, in which Tunisia has been locked for too long, has harmful consequences for the population and the land. Transparency and terroir are therefore totally erased. I believe another path is possible, one that empowers our people, respects our land, enhances our terroir and celebrates our culture.

My olive oil is certified organic by Ecocert, and is made from single-variety olives hand-picked from century-old trees by local women using traditional knowledge and methods handed down from generation to generation. This all-purpose olive oil offers a perfect balance between sweetness and complexity.

In your opinion, what makes a good olive oil?

Both the flavor and the ethics behind it. A good olive oil is obviously extra virgin, which means that the olives are cold-pressed within 48 hours and that the acidity level of the olive oil is less than 0.8%. It is single-origin and preferably monovarietal. It must also smell fresh! It must be packaged in a tinted bottle or can (light is olive oil's enemy!). As for taste profiles, I think it all depends on personal preference. But whether it's herbaceous and peppery or floral and buttery, it must reflect the terroir.

Mediterranean tableware

What are your culinary inspirations?

My cultural origins have a strong influence on my cooking. On a day-to-day basis, I never cook anything sophisticated because I don't have the time and often end up feeling lazy. I cook very simple things with ingredients that remind me of nostalgic flavours: harissa, ras-el-hanout, sumac, mint, pomegranate molasses.... (my mother is Syrian!).

What are the secret ingredients for a perfect dinner?

Olive oil, anchovies and good company!

Can you tell us more about the apron you wear?

It's handmade in Marseille from antique cotton fabrics, French tea towels, with a patchwork pattern. I love the one I'm wearing because of the bright yellow pocket! There are many other unique pieces they create that are so special to me and always very artisanal.

Discover aprons