08/10/2012 03:13 pm ET Updated Oct 10, 2012

The Hungry Traveler

It was 1979 and I was bound for adventure with a full backpack and a Let's Go Europe. I was launched with well-wishes from a happy, typical American family and, if memory serves me, a farewell feast that took no place in my memory (that tells you something). No one in my family had traveled outside the U.S. and our family table was evidence; I was raised on classic American fare of meat and potatoes. Vegetables were thoroughly cooked (okay, really cooked) and dressed with butter until the culinary wonder of margarine came along. So, my flavor palette was limited and, yet, I loved to cook and experiment in the kitchen. I just didn't know how narrow my imagination extended.

My first stop was Italy and I was transformed. With my first taste of fresh pasta, freshly harvested vegetables barely blanched and dressed with luscious and fruity extra virgin olive oil, I thought I'd never be the same. Well, indeed, I wasn't. I let my taste buds be my guide for the rest of the four months I traveled. When I finally relented to coming home, I stuffed my backpack with three bottles of olive oil fearing I would never have it again.

Of course, olive oil existed in the United States, but not in most places. Not a bottle had ever found its way into my home kitchen. Grocery stores might have carried a brand or two, but it was probably on a bottom shelf for the few Italian- or Greek-American families or those who had traveled enough to know to look for it. I savored my three bottles, fearing the day I drizzled out the last drop. Of course, now I know that olive oil is perishable and I should have indulged in the nectar daily!

Flash forward to 2011 when I took my now decades-long love of Mediterranean flavors and cooking style to my own store. Ah love Oil & Vinegar was born and I am up to my eyeballs in fresh, fruity extra virgin olive oil everyday; I couldn't be happier. The olive oil industry has grown in the U.S., as has the desire for its health benefits and exceptional flavor. I have a mission to create the same experience I had in 1979. In addition, our trained staff help to spark the culinary imagination for uses beyond what most of us have experienced. We don't stop at salad dressing and bread dipping; we share recipes for baking cakes,making ice cream, marinading meats, drizzling on soup and dressing your breakfast toast. Ah, love that stuff!