Hidden among Wayland Square’s shopping bastion is The Olive Tap, an inconspicuous food haven that’s far from a newcomer to the Rhode Island scene. However, many an onlooker believes the exceptionally clean store to be nothing more than an upscale shop for specialty oils, when in fact Greg Holtkamp, the store’s co owner, has slowly been transforming it into one of the most intimate of dining destinations on the East Side.
Less than a year ago, Holtkamp befriended Rhode Island’s culinary genius/madman Jaime D’Oliveira, the acclaimed four-star chef of Red Stripe and Mill’s Tavern fame. The two were introduced by a friend and D’Oliveira came to appreciate Holtkamp’s fine oils and food knowledge, often popping into the store just to say hello.
“Then one day Jaime said, ‘Do you think there’s an opportunity to do something together?’ To me, that’s like I have an AAU basketball team and Michael Jordan asks, ‘Can we do something together?’ It’s a no-brainer.”
To start, the two created a weekly themed tasting event, in which D’Oliveira created “dishes incorporating our oils, vinegars, maple syrups, mayonnaise, any number of things we carry, to show people ways to use them other than in a salad,” says Holtkamp.
But then something changed. “A couple weeks ago, Jaime stopped in to have a beer with me. He said, ‘As a general manager of a restaurant, I don’t get to cook.’ That’s his passion, so he asked me what we could do about it.” The two of them examined the tasting events and found people often stayed from start to finish, going so far as to make an event out of it. “So I said, if you want to cook, let’s turn the tastings into something more, and we started a weekly culinary series with Jaime.”
And what a culinary series it is.
While the tastings still take place every Friday night, The Olive Tap now offers weekly multi-course themed dinners prepared by Jaime D’Oliveira – and only D’Oliveira. Holtkamp sets up an upscale eating environment (linens, candles, music, the whole works) in the back of the store, while D’Oliveira jams to Bob Marley in the basement and lets loose his culinary abilities.
“It’s amazing to watch him work,” says Holtkamp. “The first dinner, we had 20 people and he did six courses by himself. We were running as fast as we could to serve and clear, and he still found time to come upstairs and talk about each dish, what inspired him to make it, what’s in it. And at any point, if you went down to the prep area to see him, it’s spotless, not a dirty dish in the sink. He’s a machine.”
Each dinner is as much about the food prepared by D’Oliveira as it is about D’Oliveira himself. For example, the second event of the series was dedicated to D’Oliveira’s grandfather, and the tales he told about each dish involved his grandparents and their influence on his cooking. Where else can one enjoy a four-star chef’s six- or seven-course meal, all prepared only by that chef, and listen to his charismatic banter about why he chose to serve each dish? There’s no other way to describe it than intimate. “He’s as close to a genius in the kitchen as anyone I’ve ever met,” says Holtkamp. “We’re very, very, very fortunate to have him.”