HUNNIONS BABY HUNNIONS
It’s a beautiful early morning, the first signs of spring, and Matt Burns has just finished doing some prep at Mavericks doughnuts. After working in his own production kitchen until 2am, he gets a quick three hour sleep, and at 5am, he helps out prepping freshly made doughnuts with a desperate need for coffee. Sitting down with Matty is always a pleasure. A humble dude who’s sailed the seas and now back in Ottawa to bring us something we didn’t know we needed but are sure glad to have now: Hunnions!
I’ve known Matt since going to culinary school together at Algonquin College in 2008 and have always admired his work ethic. Matt had been cooking in restaurants since 2006 when he decided that after 5 years it was time for a new direction in the culinary world.
Matt left Ottawa in 2011 to go work as a private Chef on yachts. Doing that for 6 years, he got to travel the world and experience many unique foods and flavours. But it wasn’t until 2015 when he got asked to be the Chef on a particular vacation that opened his eyes to something simple and amazing.
While working as a Chef on a 10-day vacation in St. Lucia, Matt had the opportunity to work for the owner of a very popular gaming council.. A trip like that would cost on average about $500,000. The food cost budget was a non-issue. While on vacation, the owner’s brother had wanted to cook a special dinner for the family. Matt obliged and offered whatever his fridge had. The dish was fried grouper fish done in a Jamaican style with mashed potatoes and a uniquely pickled onion. Once Matt took his first bite he was amazed that a pickled onion could tie everything together in a dish the way that this had. It was crunchy, sweet, spicy and really brought the whole dish to a completely different level. So he studied the way these onions were quickly pickled, went home and got to work.
It’s hard to explain how the mind of a Chef works. Ya I know you’ve watched the shows on Netflix and probably countless others, but in living and working in it everyday, what you see is often a snapshot into our world. We are creators, scientists and artists. In our first bites, our minds immediately go into dissecting it, isolating all the flavours, catching the different textures and flavour profiles, exploring what you are experiencing, and seeing how it may be restructured through your own vision . This is always such a great moment, and one of the many that inspire us to keep on creating everyday.
Matt worked on his Hunnions recipe at home until he nailed it down. The main idea is to get one great recipe down and go from there. You don’t need to launch with 15 different types of flavoured pickled onions because you’re gonna end up confusing your consumers, and can sometimes compromise the overall quality of your product. Once Matt got his recipe just right, he started selling them off to neighbours and friends. Cutting onions and packaging at home he started to approach local businesses to garner some interest. He went from hand slicing to buying an industrial vegetable slicer. Then business started to pick up! He needed to buy another slicer and find a production kitchen, so he went from selling to friends in the area to about a dozen locations in a matter of 3 weeks! You can even start finding them at restaurants like Tavern on the Hill or the Cheshire Cat. You can also buy them by the jar at places like Lapointes and Grace in the Kitchen!
But even with the fast growing success, the best part for Matt is educating people on what a pickled onion can do for your dish and sharing his experience in creating it. It’s turning non-onion lovers into believers, so he’s basically a magician. Sometimes you have to take a leap of faith and leave it in a Chef’s hands so they can open your eyes and palate to some new and interesting flavours that you may have never thought you would enjoy. Then to have it turn out you can’t believe what you’ve been missing this whole time! The three things you’re going to notice with a Hunnions are Crunch, Sweetness and Spice. To have an onion do so much on it’s own takes time, education and lots of recipe development to find the perfect harmony of it all. It’s a Chef’s commitment to what they create that can go unnoticed until you learn the stories behind it.
It’s great for Matt to find love in not only cooking his product but the business side of it as well. From cooking his onions to marketing and sales. Once you meet Matt and converse with him about why he’s so passionate about this, you can’t help but start buying some Hunnions. It’s in knowing these great people behind the food they create that you see how much love and care goes into such a simple thing; that it’s a thing done well by people who are trying to do good by their food.
It’s a big task to create a new way to call a vegetable that’s a foundation for almost all of cooking. But just like Kleenex or Xerox you never know! One day in the near future you might be asking someone at the dinner table when the family is having a BBQ and you’re looking for that final touch on your hamburger or sausage to pass the Hunnions!