Meet Oregon Winner Olympic Provisions
Posted on Wednesday, October 12th, 2011 in Charcuterie by Jen Flaxman
Elias Cairo founded Olympic Provisions in 2009 in an effort to bring together the tastes of his childhood and what he learned as an apprentice in Europe. What began as a one-man show has blossomed into two restaurants and a charcuterie business amounting to 65 total employees.
I catch Elias just at the end of his daily cleanup. He tells me he must call me back, as he doesn’t want to leave the rest of his staff to clean the place without him. When he is all done, he tells me about how he got into the charcuterie business. Growing up in Salt Lake City, Utah, Elias’ family didn’t own much land, but did own many animals. He recalls having 4 sheep, 4 goats, 15 chickens and a pig every once in a while. Oh, and beehives, who can forget the beehives, but “that’s what the Greek did” Eli told me. His family made everything from their own glue to all their liquor and even their own candy.
His love of food took Eli first through culinary school and then to Europe where he apprenticed in old charcuterie shops in Switzerland. When he came back to the states he started going to a lot of farmers markets and noticing a trend: plenty of fruits, plenty of vegetable, no charcuterie. From there, Olympic Provisions was born. Eli decided he wanted to cure meat the way he learned in Europe, done very hands on in a very small way. Take for example his Saucisson: just pork and salt. He works very closely with local Oregon farmers to develop different flavors by changing the pig’s diet and environment.
When I ask Eli what his favorite thing about working in the food industry is, he doesn’t hesitate to answer. “The people. People that take time and make craft food. Everyone is positive, passionate and excited about what they are doing. Seems like every person I meet is just opening up a restaurant or coffee roastery, starting a cheese business, making chocolate or becoming an urban farmer. It’s kind of hilarious, but they are all very great people.”
If I had been lucky enough to be able to stop into the Olympic Provisions meat shop up in Portland, I would have been serenaded by the sounds of Willy Nelson and Neil Young. Did I mention they always (and only) listen to records and sports talk radio in the meat shop? Eli has created a personal oasis for himself and his staff. Though sometimes the work can be daunting – a daily cycle of cutting, curing, packaging, lifting and cleaning – it takes little more than a trip to the farmers market where he can see his customer’s happy faces to make him remember what he loves so much about this business.
And what does being a Good Food Award winner mean to Eli? “It is insanely flattering,” he tells me. “You’re very busy and very tired and very hard on yourself, and then when you receive an award from your peers and people you look up to…the fact that they tried it was great and the fact that they liked it…it was insanely flattering.”