Dairy to dream Entrepreneurs hope to make their creamy condiment the finishing touch for discerning home cooks

You had us at butter.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/07/2021 (677 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

You had us at butter.

It’s Wednesday evening at the St. Norbert Farmers’ Market where Rob Sengotta and Landon Kroeker, owners of a newfangled venture called Von Slick’s Finishing Butter, are fielding the question of the day — “Uh, what’s finishing butter?” — for the umpteenth time.

Sengotta, a chef who has toiled in kitchens throughout Canada and Europe, and Kroeker, a marketing professional, happily explain that it’s high-quality, salted butter that’s been infused with a mix of herbs and spices, as well as ingredients such as garlic, mushrooms or roasted red peppers. The “finishing” part of the name refers to how it’s meant to be used.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Business partners Landon Kroeker, left, and Rob Sengotta have six flavours of their Von Slick’s Finishing Butter.

Pretend you’ve grilled a steak or salmon fillet and are now allowing it to rest for the prescribed period. The pair, who live and work in the southeast corner of the province, recommend placing a serving of finishing butter atop the dish just before diving in, to elevate the taste a notch or 10.

“I’ve been surprised by how many people have never heard of it before, but that’s probably my fault because I make the mistake of thinking everybody’s a chef,” Sengotta says with a chuckle.

“This is only our third week (at the market) but so far, it’s been an absolute blast, not just answering questions but learning a thing or two ourselves. One person who picked up our salted caramel finishing butter told us how it goes great with popcorn and we were like, why didn’t we think of that? Here we’ve been telling people all these fancy dishes they can try it on and we missed the simplest one of all.”

● ● ●

Sometimes called compound butter, finishing butter has its roots in France, where the term “monter au beurre,” mount with butter, is part of most chefs’ vernacular. Fittingly, France is where Sengotta, 43, born and raised in Langley, B.C., first learned about the appetizing foodstuff. At age 22, two years after completing a culinary arts course at Kamloops’ Thompson River University, Sengotta landed a restaurant job in Saint-Jean-d’Angély, near Bordeaux.

“(Finishing butter) was just part of cooking; nobody there even thought about it as anything particularly special,” he says, sporting a black T-shirt emblazoned with their company logo. (Although Kroeker says Von Slick’s “doesn’t mean much of anything,” it’s just a name he came up with out of the blue, we’d like to think it’s a veiled reference to creative genius Professor Von Slickstein, from the old Inspector Gadget TV series.)

“I was just this grunt on a line but I made a point of absorbing as much knowledge as I could and when I returned to B.C. and opened my own restaurant (Shuswap Chefs) in Salmon Arm, I incorporated finishing butter in my recipes, too,” Sengotta says.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS The sort of packaging they had in mind didn’t exist, which meant designing it themselves from scratch, then unearthing a manufacturer.

Skip ahead a few years. In 2018, four years after the birth of their son, Sengotta’s wife Tina, whom he met in B.C., expressed an interest in living closer to home, “home” being Sprague, 170 kilometres southeast of Winnipeg. Following the move he landed a position at nearby Buffalo Point Resort, where he’s currently executive chef.

One morning in 2019 Kroeker, Buffalo Point’s 35-year-old marketing manager, was walking past Sengotta’s office. Given things there tend to slow down a tad during the winter months, Kroeker semi-jokingly said the two of them should start a business of their own. Great idea, Sengotta replied, adding, “And I know exactly what it would be: finishing butter.”

Kroeker’s response was something along the lines of “Finishing what?” to which Sengotta shot back, “Follow me to the kitchen and I’ll show you.”

Deciding what recipes to go with wasn’t a problem; Sengotta had six varieties, including garlic confit and olive tapenade, that he’d been toying around with for a while. He also knew what butter he wanted to use as his base: Notre Dame Creamery butter, a brand he fell in love with after moving to Manitoba. No, the main reason it took the pair almost two years to churn, er, turn their dream into reality was packaging.

Finishing butter needs to stay frozen so the added ingredients don’t spoil, Kroeker explains. The common practice is to roll it into a cylindrical shape after it’s been prepared, wrap it in parchment paper and store it in the freezer. Then, when you’re ready to use it, you fetch it out, cut off however many pucks or discs of butter you need, then return the remainder to the freezer.

“Rob had this vision of a lined tube that the butter would come in, but the trick was how to get it out when it’s frozen,” he continues. “That’s when he came up with the brilliant idea of pushing it out from the bottom, similar to how a tube of caulking works.”

One problem: the sort of packaging Sengotta had in mind didn’t exist, which meant designing it themselves from scratch, then unearthing a manufacturer — they ended up going overseas — willing to make it for them.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Kroeker, left, and Sengotta came up with the idea for their own business at Buffalo Point Resort.

Since they launched their line in April, grocery store managers have been tremendously receptive. Von Slick’s Finishing Butter, which retails for $9.95 per 140-gram tube, is already available in more than 60 outlets province-wide, including all four Winnipeg Miller’s Meats locations.

Shawn Miller of Miller’s Meats first learned about the product through a distributor of his whose specialty is made-in-Manitoba goods. Ordinarily Miller takes his associate’s word for it when he’s told he should carry this or that on his family-run operation’s shelves. In the case of Von Slick’s, he definitely wanted to try it for himself.

“I was already semi-familiar with compound butter; some of the higher end restaurants in the city serve it with their bread — Café Carlo is one that comes to mind — so I was excited to hear two local guys had come out with a commercial version for the home market,” Miller says when reached at work.

“What they’ve done really well, in my opinion, is make their lineup so diverse by offering a butter for every meal of the day, pretty much. The garlic confit is great on steak, the red pepper pairs perfectly with chicken or pork and, being a huge blueberry guy, I find the wild blueberry is excellent on pancakes and waffles.”

To date, Kroeker and Sengotta have worked out of a shared commercial kitchen in Middlebro, 15 minutes from Buffalo Point. Their goal is to roll Von Slick’s out from coast to coast, which is why they’re presently having a dedicated space of their own built, also in Middlebro. (The secret to their success? The town, just north of the U.S. border is a two-time gold-medal winner for best-tasting water in the world.)

“I’m also thinking about introducing new butters in the not-too-distant future,” says Sengotta, who recommends against using their finishing butter to cook with the way you would normal butter, owing to the fact it would lose too much flavour during the heating process. “The six we have now are what I consider entry-level flavours but for sure, I’d love to do one with truffles, some with seasonal fruits and vegetables… The possibilities are endless.”

Also, it’s easy for him to say given he’s been cooking professionally for more than half his life, but Sengotta, a modest sort, points out what they’ve come up with isn’t exactly rocket science.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESSVon Slick’s Finishing Butter is on sale at the St. Norbert Farmers’ Market.

“Anybody can make (finishing butter), the same way anybody can make 98 per cent of what’s on the shelf at the store. The thing is, nobody seems to have the time or patience to go shopping for all the necessary ingredients, or setting aside a few hours to get it right. That’s OK. I’m happy to do it for you.”

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David Sanderson

Dave Sanderson was born in Regina but please, don’t hold that against him.


Updated on Saturday, July 24, 2021 11:03 AM CDT: Corrects misspelled name.

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