|Chef Lynn Crawford signing at Denninger's 60th Anniversary|
My last column, about the Denninger’s Foods of the World 60th anniversary, veered a bit to the nostalgic. However, given the enthusiastic comments I heard, it apparently struck a chord with readers who are truly fond of the institution.
I mentioned I was looking forward to meeting Chef Lynn Crawford at the re-launch of the venerable King Street Store as she demonstrated how to grill some special cuts of meat, and that it promised to be a grand, and likely popular, occasion.
Well I was right on one front. It was busy as all get out: I didn’t get to interview Chef (who had many contractual obligations to fulfill) or even to see her cook. (Immodestly, I think my own Tomahawk steak, cooked earlier in the week, was perhaps every bit as good as hers.)
Arriving shortly after 10 a.m. the newly-finished patio was already hopping. There was also a goodly and excited crowd inside the store; Chef was sequestered with her assistant checking emails; Denninger’s Co-owner Martin Frank was trying to juggle parking and site access issues; flocks of PR folk were attending to last minute details. The stress was palpable. And just as I was about to try to introduce myself to her, it was ShowTime.
Chef Lynn has an innately warm and engaging public persona much appreciated by the crowd, which included Mayor Bob Bratina and various Denninger’s staff and family members. The warm and uncomplicated Sunni Genesco of K-Lite and CHCH (which in a symmetrical twist is also celebrating 60 years in Canadian TV Broadcasting this year) conducted a Q&A which was followed by Chef interacting with her fans and signing cook books.
In my earlier interview with Frank he had told me about Crawford coming aboard to help market the company’s products. “Part of the deal is she likes to come survey the facilities… it was amazing the response we received from her. She was so excited… almost to the point of jumping up and down – she got right behind the counter and tried everything from our schnitzels to our Oktoberfest (sausage).”
During the interaction with Genesco, Crawford said she felt “part of the Denninger’s family,” noting “there are people here who like food more than I do.” Frank had told me Chef was very partial to Denninger’s whistle dogs, a bacon-wrapped sausage. Crawford confirmed that during the Meat n’ Greet, joking she had eaten 16½ when she came to familiarise herself with the store!
In between taking selfies with, and dispensing hugs to, audience members, she organized an impromptu Whistle Dog eating contest: two hardy souls battled it out for a copy of her most-recent cookbook, published last fall (At Home with Lynn Crawford: 200 of My Favourite Easy Recipes).
Meanwhile, inside the store and on the patio, the crowd was busy shopping and visiting with the various suppliers who were on hand to provide samples of their wares. It was delightful to taste the almost creamy Ferrarini prosciutto, hot sauce from Uncle Nathan, Thornbury Cider, Liberté Yoghurt, Ritter Sport Chocolates, and Hewitt’s Dairy ice cream (love the coconut!), those being but a few of the goodies one could try. And that’s not including the slew of Denninger’s in house specialities, including – here’s my nostalgia re-surfacing – Polish Paczki spiked with plum butter, just like at my father’s store, aka Euro-donuts in the store’s vernacular.
One product stood out for me, and not just because I regularly stock it in my pantry, or the pitchman’s distinctive cowboy hat. Doug Renfro came all the way from Fort Worth in Texas, bearing salsas and other products based on or inspired by his Grandmother’s recipes. Mrs. Renfro’s Gourmet Salsas has a few years on Denningers: founded 74 years ago, Doug said when they heard Denninger’s was celebrating, the Renfro family wanted to support them by celebrating with them. “It was a no-brainer,” he added.
About 15 years ago, Denninger’s was the first retailer in Eastern Canada to give Renfro’s a shot. Now Renfro’s is the “biggest of the little guys” and to my palate make uncompromisingly great and tasty products, including a ghost pepper salsa I have yet to try. Still family-owned, they rank among the top ten of the ~500 Salsa brands in the U.S., and were recently named one of seven finalists across America for the 2014 DREAM BIG Small Business of the Year Award by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Go get ‘em cowboy!
Of his trip to Hamilton, Renfro said “I had a great time & it was obviously a momentous occasion for the family.” I think we can look forward to other milestones for Denninger’s: there’s is an expansion agenda, though the company is coy on potential locations and timelines.
And Chef Lynn is slated to be back to cook hams at Christmas. Perhaps I’ll get to meet her then…