Olive Oil queen, Tina Cancemi is a Japanese-Italian businesswoman who runs the Italian end of her business Olivo from the Roman 'foodie friendly' neighbourhood of Testaccio.

Tina’s motto is ‘live, love, Olivo’.

Olivo caters to the Japanese market by exporting high quality Olive Oil from Italy to Japan, to be sold in their Olivo stores and The Cantina Cancemi, a casual eatery serving delicious Italian food in Tokyo. 

For an olive oil fanatic, a working day involves hiking the Umbrian hills to sample some of the finest olive oils in the world. And who better to select them, as Tina is a certified A.I.S. (Associazione Italiana Sommelier) and U.M.A.O (Unione Mediterranea Assaggiatori Oli) trained olive oil taster. She sure knows her flavours, and it is not by chance that Tina’s future lay in olive oil. Her grandfather, chef Sir Antonio Cancemi, brought authentic Italian food to Japan in 1944. The Cancemi clan are proud to boast that they are one of the oldest Italian families in Japan today.

I met up with Tina to share an olive or two and have a chit chat about Olivo. Here’s how her ideas came into fruition.

Explain how Cancemi Corp was born.
Cancemi Corporation was established in January 2011 as the brainchild of my father, Enzo Cancemi (President and CEO of Cancemi Corporation), myself, and my family, with the mission to raise awareness in quality appreciation for Italian and Mediterranean cuisine, and especially for premium extra virgin olive oil and olives.  Cancemi Corporation manages the OLiVO brand as well as La Cantina Cancemi,  with interiors inspired by the Cancemi family wine cellar where patrons can enjoy all-day Italian dining in casual setting. 

Tina Cancemi - Enzo Cancemi

Where did you come up with the name Olivo?
"Olivo" (or olive tree, in Italian). We feel that the essence of Italian cuisine lies in the history, culture, and unique regional terrain of the olive fruit.  It is the basis and beginning of the glorious culinary tradition of the Mediterranean.  Naturally, the name OliVO seemed fitting for the chain of stores that would carry original olive-inspired dishes, a selection of table olives and premium extra virgin olive oil, sold "sfuso" and poured into bottles from our  stainless steel "fusti". 


I understand that your grandfather is quite famous in Japan, are you proud to be continuing the Italian/Japanese Cancemi lineage?
Certainly. My grandfather, after he studied at San Bartolomeo Culinary Institute in Rome and upon graduating at the top of his class, was immediately commissioned to assume the role of Commander-in-Chief Grand Chef for the Italian naval force during World War II.  He first set foot in Japan in 1943 at the time Italy surrendered and withdrew from the war, but instead of returning to his home town in Sicily, he remained in Japan and traveled around the country as personal chef to U.S. General Douglas Macarthur during his visit to post-war Japan.  He continued to open the first Italian restaurant in Japan and in 1989, in recognition for his lifetime achievements, he received the highest order of knighthood by the Republic of Italy.

Growing up, my grandfather and I conversed in Japanese as I did not speak Italian.  He was so delighted when I began learning Italian in college and spent a year in Florence Italy, and was finally able to talk to him in his mother tongue.  He passed away in 2003, but I remember so fondly our conversations in Italian (albeit in halting Italian...) so you can certainly say that I am very proud to be continuing the Italian/Japanese Cancemi lineage.

What language do u dream in?
Italian - Japanese - or English: All three! I mostly dream in English but occasionally, when I have a silly dream, it will be in Japanese.  On the other hand, if I have a scary or panicky dream, I may blurt out words in Italian! The Italian language really lends itself to outbursts of fear, anger, or panic! 

You have bought a taste of Italian food to Japan, would you consider opening a Japanese restaurant  in Rome to match the success of Tokyo's Cantina Cancemi?
Though we don't have any immediate plans to do so, it would certainly be lovely to open an authentic Japanese restaurant in Italy, and especially Rome, as good Japanese food is hard to come by in the Eternal City.  We constantly seek to raise the bar in quality appreciation and new ideas, so this may become a reality in the near future...

Tina CancemiWhat is your favorite olive/olive oil?
What a question! If I had to choose, I would say Nocellara del Belice. There are three types of olives: those ideal for table olives, those ideal to make oil, and the rare cultivar that lends itself to both. Nocella del Belice (DOP) is such an olive. A beautiful, green and rotund olive, it's usually prepared in brine - pitted or non-pitted - ideal for an appetizer or to garnish a cocktail.  The olive oil made from Nocellara is an intense fruity oil with an aroma of ripe tomato, hints of sage and mint, and a balanced, almond finish. It's really quite extraordinary. And of course, the Nocellara del Belice from Castelvetrano is local to my "terra" of Sicily.
 
Your husband is Roman. Are you teaching him your Japanese cooking skills?
Yes! I adore cooking though so it's not a chore for me to cook Japanese at home. Fortunately, my husband loves Japanese cuisine so over the years - in my absence during business trips - he has learned to improvise and prepare some simple Japanese dishes too.

What is your favorite thing about Rome?
Where to begin? I love the pace of life in Rome. The people - unapologetic, straightforward, and friendly. The light. And oh, the food. The food! 

Favorite Italian dish?
There are too many to mention!  However, I never turn down a second helping of my husband’s home-made Carbonara, with pancetta from his uncle's (Zio Cesare) meat stand.

Tina Cancemi

Favorite Japanese dish?
Again, too many to mention! I am known to eat kilos of edamame without blinking an eye.  I do also love noodles of all kinds. Oh and Japanese cucumbers! They are much crunchier, less watery, and more beautifully flavorful than the ones you find here. 

I do crave Japanese food while living in Rome, but at the same time, I love wine, and the art of pairing a gorgeous wine with the perfect Italian meal. We have been integrating the use of olive oil in Japanese cuisine as well and found a variety of lovely pairings.  

When we can expect to see the Olivo iPhone App?
I hope very soon! We are the first Flos Olei point in Japan and I've had the good fortune of working with Marco Oreggia for the past few years. Flos Olei has a wonderful App.