Staff Report

The Los Olivos Jazz & Olive Festival features world-class live jazz and 30 local wineries pouring tastings of excellent wines, but the 30 chefs offering tastes of their creations make the event truly special.

This is the 14th year of the annual festival, which is produced by the Los Olivos Rotary Foundation. On June 9, the 650 attendees in downtown Los Olivos can look forward to outstanding culinary treats.

Each year valley residents participate as amateur, but quite competitive, chefs to produce olive-based food including pastas, salads, tapenades, breads, meat dishes, and even smoked olives. They do it with a generous and creative spirit, and they have fun.

One of the fun-loving participants is Yvonne Lowe, a skilled cook who says she often creates something she has never tried before, and “it’s fun to try it out on 200 enthusiastic, unsuspecting people.”

She and her husband, Greg, who is also a chef, love the concept and the venue, and participate each year. Greg adds an additional dimension, such as muffaletta sandwiches, because he lived in New Orleans and took cooking classes there. Yvonne, who has twice offered olive oil and grape cakes, thinks that this year she will make an Italian dessert — a rich, dense cake with chestnut flour, pine nuts, raisins and walnuts.

Both Yvonne and Greg are active in the community. Yvonne started the St. Mark’s Preschool 11 years ago and has spent many years helping 4H, the Los Olivos PTA, St. Mark’s Church, and Arts Outreach. Although they are very busy, Yvonne says that they make time for the festival because they enjoy the event and they appreciate what Rotary does for the valley with scholarships and its many grants and projects.

The festival is the Rotary Club’s one event of the year that raises funds for its many charitable projects.

Shannon Casey has been a Jazz & Olive Festival chef for 12 years. She says she has been thinking about cooking since she received an “Easy Bake Oven” at age 5 and has been actually cooking since she was 8. As a teenager, she had a job cooking.

The event is perfect for Shannon. She loves the “mellow” crowd and the fact that the attendance is limited to 650, allowing interaction and feedback. And that feedback is very positive, enabling her to be an event winner often. She is an excellent cook, and by her own admission “very competitive.”

She attributes her success to experience and to selecting dishes that are appropriate for the weather each year. She says a dish should be wine-friendly, not overly complicated, and refreshing — for example, a watermelon salad if the weather is hot. And she enjoys walking around to taste what the other chefs have created.

She also loves the live jazz environment. She loves listening to jazz but also sings and plays piano, guitar, harp and cello.

She devotes a lot of her time to her business, producing Rancho Olivos olive products, but is also energetically involved in the community as president of the Santa Ynez Valley Master Chorale and president of the Los Olivos Community Organization, formerly The Grange.

To buy tickets or get more information about the festival, call Jim Lohnas at 805-448-5403 or Peter Robbins at 805-895-0476. More information is also posted on Facebook or at