About Steven Jenkins

"But there are two kinds of professional … . There’s the professionalism that does something well enough to earn a living from it. And there’s the professionalism that creates commitment so intense that the earning of a living happens by the way. Its dynamic isn’t wages but the determination to do something as well as it can be done."

From LAIDLAW by William McIlvanney  Harcourt Brace 1977

Photographed in Monte Argentario, Italy

Photographed in Monte Argentario, Italy


Steven and olive oil:

I was first made curious about olive oil because of the labels. Reading labels lead to study, travel and tasting. There is no school for olive oil and, being an autodidact anyway, I began to learn as much as I could starting around 1977. Giorgio DeLuca, a founder of Dean and DeLuca, shared his passion and knowledge and uncanny food sense when I was the store’s first employee. I had the friendship and professional relationship with Manfredi Barbera from Palermo, whose knowledge of olive oil is unsurpassed, and whose Oleificio Barbera has long been for me a virtual school. I also had Bob Singletary, the master miller at California Olive Ranch.  As a student,  Dottore Gino Celletti whose seminal book MONOCULTIVAR—THE PERFECT OLIVE OIL has had more influence over me than any book I have ever read. It upped my game with its 36 TRUTHS ABOUT OLIVE OIL But before I met Dr Gino, for 35 years I worked for David Sneddon, one of the founders of Fairway Markets in New York City. David has a marvelous and enviably innate ability to taste and compare olive oils, and his sense of the business of them was as acute as his confounding ability to parse olive oils, to compare and contrast them. And then came Curtis Cord, who founded the online Olive Oil Times along with the New York International Olive Oil Competition. Curtis is a seer, and I count my lucky stars that he invited me into his bailiwick. And every day and night it was ‘map study’, as with cheese every day was ‘map study’. I knew more about exactly where things came from than anybody in or out of the food biz. And then I made it my biz to go there. 

Lucky me.

More about Steven:

Steven Jenkins is given considerable credit for establishing New York's Fairway Markets as several of North America's largest-grossing-per-square foot retail food stores. The profit centers he invented, designed, cultivated, managed and nurtured over the last several decades include cheese counters, specialty and imported food departments, salumi and charcuterie counters, olive bars and olive oil and vinegar tasting stations. He also performed as executive buyer, marketer and merchandiser on a day to day basis. Under Jenkins' direction all fifteen markets were outfitted with fresh mozzarella production counters where this staple fresh cheese was created on the selling floor throughout each day. The company's reputation for near-constant adulatory press and for always being the first to offer uncountable high-end and staple specialty foods has been earned via his work. The consummate 'foodie', Jenkins is as famous for his reinvention of specialty store signage as he is for having transformed the business of cheese. Across the continent many of the retail food industry's most successful businesses, large and small, have adopted the style and thrust of Jenkins' iconoclastic approach, resulting in a sea-change in merchandising effectiveness, sales and profitability. Jenkins' signage has been written about and reported upon in numerous national publications. Prior to his tenure at Fairway Markets Jenkins manned the cheese counters of Dean & DeLuca and Balducci’s.

An award winning author, Jenkins has long applied his writerly talent not just to books, articles and signage, but also to the advertising strategies via clever, memorable and effective copy for radio ads, book reviews and testimonials of various pedigree. Jenkins developed the highly successful Fairway private label program, choosing the products and packaging and even designing and writing all the informational copy for the labels. With his bachelor's degree in theater from the University of Missouri (1972), Jenkins found a ready outlet as a performer of voiceovers for innumerable Fairway radio spots over the last decade, the result being a furthering of his standing as not just 'the face' of Fairway, but also 'the voice', having so often been featured on NPR, Heritage Radio and the New York area's most listened to commercial radio talk shows. 

Jenkins was given the American Cheese Society's Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008. He was the first American cheesemonger to be inducted into France's ancient and elite Guilde Des Mâitres-Fromagers and was recently elevated to the guild's highest status, that of 'prudhomme'.  He was also the first American to become a member of France's super-honorary society, Taste-Fromage. Jenkins' first book, Cheese Primer (now in its 16th printing), won the James Beard Award in 1996 and is considered an indispensable source of reference in the world of cheese. His second book, The Food Life, was published a few years ago and contains much of the 'what' and 'how' background of Fairway lore. He has contributed to food and wine publications, trade journals and culinary journals.  

In May of 2013 Jenkins was given the Distinguished Service Hall of Fame Award  by the Italian Trade Commission. In 2015 he was named Chevalier of the 'Order of Agricultural Merit' in a ceremony hosted by the French ambassador to the the United States. He was inducted into the National Specialty Food Association Hall of Fame in 2014 and was honored last year as Man of the Year by the Catalan 20,000-farmer cooperative in Reus, Spain. He has been described over the years in print as 'New York's highest profile grocer' (New York Magazine), 'the enfant terrible of the fancy food business' (The New York Times) and 'the eminence grise of American cheesemongers' (The New Yorker). He made New York Magazine's list of '100 Smartest New Yorkers'. He was named one of the 25 most important people in the history of the American specialty foods industry by Gourmet Retailer in their 25th anniversary issue.

Jenkins has delivered six sold out gala tasting/lectures at the National Geographic Society headquarters, he delivered the keynote address in Sao Paulo, Brazil to 1,500 members of the South American supermarket trade group APAS, and he is a frequent guest lecturer at the prestigious 92nd Street Y in New York City and The Food & Wine Aspen Classic. He has given talks at NYU's L2 Think Tank and The New York International Olive Oil Competition. Jenkins has been a judge for The American Cheese Society and The International Culinary Center. He is an active advocate and participant for the important work done by Oldways Preservation and Exchange Trust (Cambridge, MA).

Home-made bread rubbed with garlic and sprinkled with olive oil, shared-with a flask of wine-between working people, can be more convivial than any feast.
— Patience Gray