Every month, we like to meet with a person we cherish whose life or work gravitates around food and talk about their tips for a beautiful way of living.
Welcome to Journal de Table !
This September, we have asked Sarah Ben Romdane, the founder of KAÏA, an independent brand on a mission to change the future of Tunisian olive oil to answer our quick portrait questions. Sarah produces a certified organic extra virgin olive oil made from heirloom olives exclusively handpicked in the region of Mahdia in Tunisia.
Sarah had a crush for our Apron Soleil handmade in our Table workshop in Marseille, France, using antique fabrics selected one by one and reassembled in a patchwork technique.
Can you introduce yourself ?
My name is Sarah Ben Romdane, I am 29 years old, I produce olive oil in Tunisia that I distribute through the brand that I launched, KAÏA (@worldofkaia).
Can you tell us about your brand Kaïa and your love for olive oil?
KAÏA is family-led, independent brand on a mission to change the future of Tunisian olive oil. We produce a certified organic extra virgin olive oil made from heirloom olives exclusively handpicked on our fifth generation family estate in the region of Mahdia, where we are from.
When I went to Mahdia in the summer of 2020 after months of lockdown anxiety, I realised there was something that was missing in my life in Paris. And that was the taste of golden Tunisian sunlight; the taste of home. Now, I pour KAÏA on literally everything and it magically makes me feel closer to the Mediterranean and my childhood memories of summer in Tunisia. To me, olive oil is much more than something to drizzle over a salad. It is a lifestyle and most importantly, a sacred ingredient that nourishes, heals and brightens up life.
What are the particularities of your olive oil?
The first particularity is that it is proudly Made in Tunisia. Most people don’t know that Tunisia is the 3rd largest olive oil producing country and that’s because big industrial players profit off of Tunisia’s weaker economy to buy olive oil in bulk at a cheaper price in Tunisia to then blend it with other olive oil and resell it under European brand names and with no mention of its origins. Tunisia has been trapped in this situation for far too long, and it has harmful consequences on the people and the land. Transparency and terroir are therefore totally erased from the picture. I believe another way is possible; one that empowers our people, respects our land, highlights our terroir and celebrates our culture.
My olive oil is certified organic by Ecocert, it is made from single-variety olives handpicked on centennial trees the artisanal way by local women using using knowledge and traditional methods handed down from generation to generation. It is a go-with-anything kind of olive oil that offers the perfect balance between softness and complexity.
According to you, what makes a good olive oil?
Both the flavour and the ethics behind it. A good olive oil is obviously extra virgin, meaning the olives are cold-pressed within 48 hours and the acidity level of the olive oil is below 0.8%. It is single-origin and preferrably monovarietal. It also has to smell fresh! And must be packed in a tinted bottle or tin (light is the enemy of olive oil!). In terms of flavour profiles, I think it all comes down to personal preferences. But whether it is grassy and peppery or floral and buttery, it has to translate terroir.
Can you tell us about your relationship with the world of food and tableware?
To me, food tells stories about people and culture and this is what I am passionate about the most. In my culture, feeding someone is an act of care. There is always too much food on the table!
What are your culinary inspirations? Does your background set the tone for your daily cooking?
Yes, my cultural background influences a lot of my cooking. On a daily basis, I never cook anything fancy because I don’t have the time and will often end up feeling lazy. I will cook very simple things with ingredients that remind me of nostalgic flavours: harissa, ras-el-hanout, sumac, mint, pomegranate molasse…. (my mother is syrian!).
What are the secret ingredients for a perfect diner party?
Olive oil, anchovies and wholesome company!
Can you tell us more about the apron you’re wearing ?
It is handmade in Marseille from antique cotton fabrics, French dishlocths, and reassembled in a patchwork technique. I love this one I am wearing because of the bright yellow pocket! There are plenty more unique pieces they create that are so special to me and very artisanal.