WEEKEND TASTES - MIRIAM GRIFFITH, OLVI OILS, DUBLIN

 

LET us consider the decorous little jars of Olvi oils and vinaigrettes, made by Miriam Griffith in Beaumont, north of Dublin city. That smart little label, which hangs by a string from the neck of the bottle containing tomato vinaigrette with fennel, for example, will have had its top ends trimmed on both sides by Ms Griffith's scissors.

The little hole through which the string holds she label? Ms Griffith will have punched that herself, and then noosed and tied the string by hand.

The plastic collar which holds the cork in place will have been held individually over a flame. Then the two labels which sloop over the top of the cork will have been carefully applied, and the bottle is ready to roll.

For the portly little jars which Ms Griffith has begun to use in order to make her basil pesto and black olive paste easier to use, she will have stuck on the little label which says: "New, easier to spoon out jar".

And, of course, before all this takes place, and before Miriam Griffith loads up her little Peugeot 106 van to deliver her oils all over Dublin, she will have patiently, precisely made the delightful contents herself: the bold red glow of the tomato vinaigrette; the sturdy darkness of the olive paste; the sharp shock of yellow which is the mango vinaigrette; the warm green of the pesto and the pesto vinaigrette.

These are hand-made foods, all the way down the line, from soup to nuts.

Miriam Griffith takes this toil in her stride. as you can do when you are only 22-years-old, and the world is plentiful with possibilities, and solutions present themselves everywhere you look. The nifty little orange flyer she hands out which details the oils and what one can use them with was, for example, "something I got done for nothing. because my boyfriend has a computer, so he designed it".

She has a business plan now, but not after spending an eternity - and a small fortune - poring over one: "A student from Trinity wanted to examine the mechanics of a small company, so she did it for me." When her car "got sick," and she needed a new one to deliver her oils, her bank wouldn't entertain the request. So. she promptly closed her accounts. and moved to a new bank which was genuinely prepared to listen.

And how did she work out if there was a market for specialised oils and vinegars? "I saw that there was a market for flavoured oils when I worked in Cooke's. So, I started out with ten different oils and dressings, and just went from shop to shop, And I asked the shopkeepers what they liked, and if there were some that didn't sell, I took them back and didn't make them again. But I'm always asking people what they like, and I probably spend about half-an-hour in each shop when I do a delivery, seeing what people are buying, what they want." The smart way to do marketing.

But if Miriam Griffith has a nous for business which belies her tender years, she is also smart enough to realise that factors such as appearance and convenience are vital if one wants to sell food. "If I learnt anything from Johnny Cooke, it was that you should always make something, whatever it is, as beautiful as you can." And if the Olvi oils are handsome, they also achieve another ambition of Ms Griffith: "I want the oils to be friendly to use, like a bottle of milk."

And indeed they are a real friend for the cook. Even if you want to do no more than add some snap to a lunchtime sandwich, the Olvi oils are indispensable. But for anyone who wants to experiment with them, they prove willing bedfellows for fooling around. Indeed, their subtlety is a provocation to get creative while you are cooking, with each meal offering a chance to showcase the oils and dressings, each salad another chance to get funky.

THE secret of their culinary success lies with the fact that they are very well made, and yet they are subtly, rather than obtrusively, flavoursome. They reveal the lessons learnt in Ms Griffith's years in professional kitchens, for she started her working life in the Lobster Pot in Ballsbridge, before a couple of years in college in Galway.

Returning to Dublin, she worked with Johnny Cooke and Aongus Hanley in Polo One, before following Mr Cooke to his new space. She will admit to missing the white-heat buzz and the sense of camaraderie of the professional kitchen, but the compensations of being her own boss go some way to making up the social shortfall.

The success of Olvi is due not just to Miriam Griffith's culinary judgement and good sense, but also to her optimistic sense of opportunity. Her plans to find an enterprise centre in order to expand. and to add some new lines such as a French herb vinaigrette and a green olive paste, should shortly come to fruition. In the space of only a year she has carved out a niche and a name, producing exactly the sort of Irish-made foods which can go a long way to curing our import-substitution blues, producing exactly the sort of Irish-made foods which make our lives richer.