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updated: 5/5/2014 4:55 AM

Longtime taste tester on the edge of foodie trends

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  • Maria Reyes

      Maria Reyes

  • Romy Block

      Romy Block

  • Arielle Levitan

      Arielle Levitan

  • Dawn Fletcher Collins

      Dawn Fletcher Collins

  • Alan Leis

      Alan Leis

  • Karen Lambert

      Karen Lambert

  • William A. McDade

      William A. McDade

  • Mark Stastny

      Mark Stastny

  • Bryce Sherwood

      Bryce Sherwood

  • Maribel Bravo

      Maribel Bravo

  • Michael J. Gibbons

      Michael J. Gibbons


Maria Reyes of Woodridge has spent about 30 years taste testing foods. There's been pasta and sauces, vinegars, rice and "Oh, my God" the cookies.

"I don't have to eat the whole thing, I'm just taking a sample to taste it," she said.

But she goes to the gym to work out, just in case, she jokes.

For the last three years, Reyes, 53, has been the category director of several products at Romeoville-based KeHE. KeHE said it works with about 3,500 manufacturers, importers and other product supply partners to provide retailers with specialty and natural products for consumers. Reyes oversees various food products, including olive oil and has become an olive oil taste tester.

The so-called foodie mentality has hit the olive oil category, and she is on the front lines.

Besides the tasting, she speaks around the country, including at the California Olive Oil Council Convention in Monterey, Calif., and at the New York International Olive Oil Competition.

"I am by no means an 'expert' but I have learned quite a bit over the last 3 years," she said.

She has talked to a lot of industry professionals, read about it, and even attended several training classes. In April 2012, she attended a 2-day sensory course at University of California Davis in California. This June, she will be attending a 2-day training in New York. In the coming months, she plans to take some online classes offered by the Olive Oil Times. She also has visited a farm, California Olive Ranch, she said.

"I like to learn and olive oil is one of those products that is very interesting to me," Reyes said. "Olive oil has been around since the beginning of time and now it can almost be compared to wine."

And like wine tasters, she also has her own routine in tasting: pour the oil into a tasting cup; swirl it and look at it; sniff it and taste. She then cleanses her palate with a Granny Smith apple.

"I do taste the olive oil. I closely look at the label and the information listed on it," she said. "I smell the oil and then taste it. There is a lot you can tell about an oil just by smelling it, let alone actually tasting it. Color is not and should not come in to play when trying to determine the quality of the oil. It is more about how an olive oil tastes and smells."

The word "quality" is the new olive oil buzzword. Olive oil has begun climbing the ladder of quality just like wine, coffee and tea, she said.

It is quality olive oil that truly offers the healthy attributes such as the high polyphenols. Olive is a fruit, therefore, olive oil should be treated like a fresh fruit juice. Unlike wine, olive oil does not age well and should be used within 30 days of opening the bottle, she said.

Doctors launch vitamin line

Board certified doctors Romy Block, an endocrinologist, and Arielle Levitan, an internist, of Highland Park have launched a line of vitamins called Vous Vitamin. They said the line is freshly made in the United States and is gluten free, dairy free, non-GMO and void of any meat products. The doctors said the vitamins and supplements are sold in compliance with FDA regulations. "We developed the Vous Vitamin system after years of advising our patients on what supplements to take or not to take and the nutrients required for optimal health," Levitan said.

Back from their travels

Dawn Fletcher Collins, executive director of the Mount Prospect Chamber of Commerce, was recently in Italy ... Alan Leis of Naperville, senior vice president at Hazard, Young Attea & Associates was traveling through Holland and Belgium. ... And just back from a trip to France is award-winning marketing and communications pro George Stenitzer, founder of Crystal Clear Communications in Oswego.


Wheaton residents and friends Kathy Amro and Jeannette AuBuchon started a Kona Ice business using a truck to cruise around DuPage County. They also will donate to local school groups, teams and community organizations. As they book events with these groups, they pledge to give back a percentage of the proceeds from each stop. Nationwide, Kona Ice has donated more than $16 million dollars to community-based organizations during the past six years, the company said.

Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital President Karen Lambert is leading dozens of construction workers today in 10 minutes of exercises, kicking off a monthly program of community leaders who will participate in this twice-daily initiative promoted by builder Mortenson Construction, which also happens to be leading a three-year expansion and modernization of the Barrington hospital. The event is part of the first national Safety Week 2014, sponsored by Mortenson and 30 other construction firms.

Matt and Jacki Daly have opened ProTect Painters of the Central Western Suburbs, a professional painting franchise specializing in exterior and interior residential and commercial painting projects. They will focus on Burr Ridge, Darien, Downers Grove, Willowbrook and Woodridge. ... William A. McDade, a board-certified anesthesiologist and researcher in sickle cell disease, was elected president of the Illinois State Medical Society in Oak Brook.

Mark Stastny of Rolling Meadows and Bryce Sherwood of Naperville are new business development analysts with Chicago-based Doculabs, a boutique consulting firm. ... Maribel Bravo has been promoted to assistant controller at Lemont-based Englewood Construction, a national commercial construction firms. ... Annette Shamloo, is the manager of the new fair trade Gallery within The Little Traveler in Geneva.

Michael J. Gibbons, president and founder of Consumers Financial & Investment Services Inc. in Round Lake Beach, recently earned the Retirement Income Certified Professional designation from the American College in Bryn Mawr, Penn. ... Peter Caliendo, founder of Caliendo Sports International in Hoffman Estates, is also the author of "Youth Baseball Drills," a new book released last week.

Michael T. Nigro, president, and Howard M. Turner, of counsel at Nigro, Westfall & Gryska P.C. in Glendale Heights, were the authors of "Path to Perfection: Crafting Error-Free Illinois Mechanics Lien Claims," an article that appeared in the April issue of the Illinois Bar Journal, a monthly magazine of the Illinois State Bar Association.

•There's more to business than just the bottom line. We want to tell you about the people that make business work. Send news about people in business to Follow Anna Marie Kukec on LinkedIn and Facebook and as AMKukec on Twitter.

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