Ken Dunn is a character; a fun-loving, wisecracking adventurer who just happens to love cooking.
“It’s simple and it’s entertaining,” says Dunn, who has worked at a huge list of restaurants over the past 40 years.
He’s helped open countless diners, shown new owners the ropes, operated his own restaurants and even earned his way across Canada once by trading his kitchen skills for accommodation.
“The secret to it all is that I’m not re-inventing the wheel,” says Dunn, who has owned and operated Kenny’s Pizza on Mitton Street since 2012.
“I use basic, standard recipes, nice thin hand-rolled dough and fresh ingredients. That’s what works. That’s what people like.”
Dunn, 57, is a Red Seal chef who grew up in Sarnia in the same neighbourhood as his pizzeria.
At the age of 18, he “bugged” the owner of the long-gone Seashell Restaurant on Venetian Boulevard until the late Jim Richardson gave him a dishwashing job.
“That lasted two weeks. On payroll day, Jim was signing the cheques and saw my name,” Dunn said. “He knew my uncle Tony who was a chef in London.
“So Jim told me to put a clean apron on and get into the kitchen.” Within days, Dunn was filling breakfast orders on his own. Within weeks, he was serving dinners.
“Jim Richardson was a legendary chef in Sarnia in those days but he wasn’t easy to work for,” he said.
“I quit five or six times but I always went back.”
In 1980, during one of those breaks, Dunn enrolled in chef’s school at Sault Ste. Marie, studied for a year and took the Red Seal exams.
Most of Dunn’s career has been spent in Sarnia but he has worked for restaurants in London and as far away as the Queen Charlotte Islands. In B.C. he opened “Cousin Kenny’s Chicken Coup” and specialized in fried chicken.
Travelling was good fun, Dunn said. “But I keep coming back to Sarnia. This is home.”
In 2012, he was working for a Sarnia catering company, the local yacht club and cooking for a local daycare. But he wanted his own business and chose a pizzeria.
“I have zero background in pizza other than I understand doughs,” he said. “The reason I wanted to do this was because I was so tired of what pizza has evolved into.
“When you order a pizza, it should be able to feed a whole family. Size does matter.”
At Kenny’s Pizza, a small pizza is the size of many pizzeria larges. The extra-large is 20 inches and costs $19, plus tax. It weighs six to eight pounds and comes with five toppings.
“Pizza is the only food that 94% of all North Americans will eat. You can’t say that about anything else,” Dunn said.
Kenny’s Pizza, at 193 Mitton St., is open 4 p.m. – 9 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday, except for Fridays and Saturdays when it’s open until 11 p.m. Dine in, take out or delivery.
– Cathy Dobson