A Chat About Olive Oil & Cooking w/ Zingerman’s Deli Chef Rodger Bowser

Zingerman’s of Ann Arbor, Mich., has long been a trusted source for superior foods and ingredients. It’s also hailed as one of the best delicatessens in the country. (Check out their online shop for great holiday gifts!) So we were thrilled when Rodger Bowser, Zingerman’s Deli Chef and managing partner, chose our extra virgin olive oil for the Deli’s kitchen. Bowser gets our oil by the barrel – literally. (To win a Paella Kit and more, click here to enter our Sweepstakes with Zingerman’s.)

Zingerman’s Deli Chef Rodger Bowser prepares paella at the Deli’s annual paella party

We caught up with Bowser and talked with him about using our oil, cooking, and related topics.

How do you use California Olive Ranch extra virgin olive oil in your cooking at Zingerman’s?

We use COR extra virgin olive oil in ALL our production cooking.  From a flash in the pan, to grilling our iconic sandwiches as well as in fresh pasta and green salads.  It’s our house oil, and we are proud to use it.

What do you like about California Olive Ranch extra virgin olive oil?

We love the taste. The flavor and versatility lend themselves to everything. We also like that we can buy it in bulk, direct from the source.  Having a domestic flavorful source for our olive oil needs is in line with our goals of sustainablity and zero waste. We use less of everything: packaging (we even reuse the barrels for rain barrels for staff); freight is less; so is human labor to move it around our campus.

What’s your best piece of advice for home cooks?

In regards to olive oil, I recommend trying a lot of different kinds and finding out which ones your taste buds like for the particular dishes you’re making. There are a lot of great oils out there that can make a dish great just with the oil you use.  One example would be to make a pasta dish with just really great tasting olive oil and Parmesan cheese.  You’ll find yourself eating the whole bowl.  It’s because the olive oil is a flavor component – not just an ingredient to make sure the pasta doesn’t stick. And if you use a lot of olive oil, it’s a good idea to have a staple oil that you use more than most.  I have a 3-liter dispenser at my house, and we need to fill it every three months or so.

How do you come up with ideas for new dishes?

Books are the most inspirational to me.  Traditional recipes are the best.  I find out what traditional ingredients were meant for in the first place, then adapt them to Deli production or eating at home.  Most “new” dishes come to me by way of a new ingredient that inspires me. Usually a certain spice, vegetable, or maybe a cured piece of meat or cheese.   I find out where it comes from, what folks are doing with it – or did with it in the past – then start cooking!

What do you like to cook at home?

Home and the Deli get a little blurred sometimes.  Most recipe development for me happens at the Deli. At home I cook a lot with pasta, cheese, eggs and fresh vegetables.

Do you follow recipes, or wing it?

I wing it – unless it’s baking- or pastry-related.  Those two you cannot cowboy at all, and will usually end up in failure if you try. But for most recipes I reference tradition, and then start cooking.  If I am planning on teaching the new dish to someone, I write everything down so I can teach the recipe I just “winged.”

Bon appétit,

Your friends at California Olive Ranch