Maker Profile: KC Canning Co.
Kansas City Canning Co is a company that creates artfully delicious canned and preserved goods - think Vanilla Bourbon Peach Preserves, Balsamic-Pickled Grapes, and a Beet Tarragon Shrub. Tim and Laura Tuohy started the company in 2014 and Kansas City foodies have been hooked ever since. They are actively involved in the local community, including collaborations with Green Dirt Farms, Boulevard Brewing Co., New Roots for Refugees, Powell Gardens, Julep, Tom’s Town Distillery, and BoysGrow. Thanks to Tim for taking time to chat with us about Kansas City Canning Co.!
What inspired you to start Kansas City Canning Co.?
My wife, Laura, and I started Kansas City Canning Co. with the intention of being autonomous. We wanted to own our own business and be our own bosses. We both grew up canning; she with her grandmother here in Kansas; me with my babysitters back in New Jersey. It was a part of our respective childhoods’ and represents a significant, nostalgic moment in our lives.
What did you want to add to the market that you felt was missing?
What we set out to do and what we bring to the marketplace is an updated version of what we learned as kids. Our intention was to push the boundaries of what people associate with canned goods and introduce the traditional practice of canning to a new generation.
What’s your culinary background?
I was a high school teacher for years until I went to culinary school at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York. I worked at restaurants in Brooklyn and Asbury Park, NJ before Laura and I moved out to the Midwest. I worked for the BeerKC restaurant group (McCoy’s, The Foundry, Beer Kitchen, Char Bar) for years. The owners of BeerKC gave me opportunities to hone my culinary skills and offered a priceless education on how to run a successful business. After leaving Westport, I was extremely lucky to be given the opportunity to help open the Tom’s Town Distillery as the culinary consultant. It allowed me to implement everything I had learned from my past experiences to put together a creative menu to complement the awesome spirits that they’re producing presently.
What a successful collaboration; the Tom’s Town menu is amazing. Can you ever see yourself opening your own restaurant?
Short answer. No. I seriously doubt it. At least not a full-service restaurant. Unless I was in a position to hire the best people, pay them very well, and be totally hands-off on the day-to-day activities, I would be very hesitant. That's not to say I don't love working in restaurants. I've worked in the service industry in one way or another for the past 17 years. I know it well. It's demanding, physically and emotionally. It's extremely risky from a business perspective. But I'd be lying if I said it wasn't fun. It requires you to consistently put out fires (sometimes literally, but mostly figuratively); to have to do a virtual triage to decide what tasks need to happen to get through that minute, hour, day, etc; to bend head over heels in order to make sure people have an incredible experience; and you have to do all of that in such a way to make it look effortless to your guests. When it's done well, it's wonderful. I could see, down the line, getting the itch and opening a small burger joint or sandwich shop, but for now, I'm going to continue putting stuff in jars, professionally.
What people/places/things do you find yourself going back to for flavor inspiration?
I try to identify trends before they hit the mainstream. I don’t necessarily have a process that I follow. I look at what the best chefs, nationally and locally, are doing and try to identify ingredients, techniques or different styles of cuisines that repeat from one person or place to another. Outside of that, I cook what I like to eat and push people to try things they haven’t before. On top of that, we’ve been able to form some amazing relationships with individual farmers and farms in and around KC. We have an understanding with our farmers, where if they have an excess of any specific product that they may not be able to sell at market, that I’ll buy it and turn it over into a shelf-stable, value-added product. This ensures that the farmers will always have a market for their goods, eliminates food waste, allows the farmers to grow what they want and what is good for the land and necessitates creativity and invention on my end. That’s how both our Beet Tarragon Shrub and Pickled Ground Cherries came about, both of which won Good Food Awards in 2017.
What a great way to do business, with that connection between innovation and sustainability. Were you ever landed with an excess product that you had no idea what to do with at first?
Coming up with ideas hasn't been a significant problem, so much as having a crazy idea and trying to make it work despite all reason or logic. Or coming up with an idea for a product and having to admit defeat when it just doesn't work. For example, we got these tiny, little Mexican Gherkin Cucumbers last year. They look like watermelons, but the size of a marble. They have a thick skin, relative to their size, so when you bite into them, there's a satisfying crunch. The center of it is just what you would expect from a cucumber; sweet, subtle, with that cooling sensation, like a melon or aloe. So I made these tiny pickled cucumbers, spicy, smoky, with a hint of clove and nutmeg. My wife wanted to call them Li'l Wallops. And they were delicious. At least I thought so, but I'm biased. The center of the vegetable, however, became really quite gooey once they were cooked. But the skin remained relatively tough, so they had this really unattractive mouth-feel. Like biting into the crispest of pickles only to realize the interior was liquified. In the end, I decided to scrap the entire project because I couldn't figure out how to remedy the problem. It would have been frustrating if I didn't like playing with my food so much.
What are you making right now?
Right now, I’m working on an Heirloom Tomato Bruschetta, which we’re making in collaboration with Boy’s Grow. What I’m most excited about is a Black Garlic Paste that I intend to release before the end of this calendar year. Black Garlic is fresh garlic that is fermented in its paper until the cloves turn black in color. The flavor develops a deep umami and sheds the strong sulfurous notes. It accentuates all of the best parts of garlic and transforms it into the epitome of savory.
Wow, those sound delicious, can’t wait to try those. I don’t see black garlic often in western dishes – what are some of your favorite uses for the Black Garlic Paste?
Black Garlic can be used as you would a soy sauce, fish sauce or bean paste. It adds a savory aspect to your dish that is unrivaled. You can spread it on toast or throw a bit on pizza. I wouldn't hesitate to add it to a soup or stock to really get the biggest bang for your buck.
If you were magically given 3 more hours per day, what would you do with them?
Practically speaking, I would probably end up working an extra three hours. In an ideal world, a couple extra hours of sleep would be lovely. There’s always something to do when you own a small business and there’s always a nagging thought of some sort to keep you up at night. I know many people can appreciate that. At the same time, I’m afraid it would be difficult to work for anyone other than myself. My wife and I just recently welcomed home our first child, Olive Kathleen, a beautiful, healthy baby girl. Having a child changes who you are. Clearly, there's time to prepare for the baby's arrival, but when it comes down to it, one minute, you're some guy, and the next minute you're a father. And nothing you could have done could have prepared you for that. I've been blessed that my parents, my in-laws, my friends and family have all been so generous and supportive as we started this company. So yes. If I had an extra three hours a day I would work (and probably play a bit of hooky to play with the baby). So that when the time comes, I'm in a position to be as generous and supportive as they have been to me and my family.
What are your hopes for KC Canning Co. in the next few years?
Our goal for the next few years is to make Kansas City Canning Co. a recognizable and respected brand throughout these United States. We hope to help shine a spotlight on all of the amazing things that Kansas City has to offer and unbelievable food available throughout the Midwest. We want to continue to work with both farmers and consumers to try to figure out ways to reduce and eliminate food waste; to educate and challenge people to practice food preservation, in all its myriad forms. From a business perspective, we are working on working with more restaurants. If there’s a pickle on a plate in Kansas City, I want it to be a Kansas City Canning Co. pickle. At least that’s the plan…
You mention educating people about food preservation - have you ever or would you ever consider teaching canning workshops?
Yes. I would. In another life, I was a high school teacher in Queens. I taught history and psychology and coached the track team prior to going to culinary school. I love being in an educational environment where people want to learn a new concept or skill and where you can learn from others. Recently I gave a canning class of sorts at a person's home. It was the result of an auction item we had donated to raise money for Cultivate KC. Objectively, it was a lovely night. Time permitting, I'd relish (pun totally intended) the opportunity to do something like that on a regular basis.
Let us know – Made in KC would be all about that! We’re always excited to see what you all are doing next. Thanks for taking the time to chat with us!