Member Profile – Gina Backovich
Procurement, General Produce Company
Gina Backovich, who has been a buyer for General Produce Co., Ltd, in Sacramento for the past 15 years, took a unique route to the position. It seems that most produce buyers start off as courtesy clerks transition to produce clerk and eventually work their way into produce buying office. Gina’s route started in the meat department of a Lucky’s store in Jackson, CA, which is about an hour’s drive southeast of Sacramento, near the area where she spent a good portion of her youth.
In fact, Gina has deep roots in the area surrounding Sacramento. She was born in Lodi and spent quite a bit of time in Amador County as a youngster on the farms of her grandparents. Her grandparents on both sides of the family came to California around the turn of the 20th Century, with one side hailing from Pennsylvania and the other from Oklahoma. Her great grandfather who originated in Pennsylvania came to the region and started a coal mine.
After, Gina’s birth, her immediate family moved to Portland, OR, which is where she lived for several years before they moved back to California. In California, the area around Sacramento was again home until a move to the Bay Area city of Benicia when she was in grammar school. “I spent second grade to high school in Benicia, but I actually graduated from South Medford High School in Oregon as we moved back there right before my senior year.”
As Gina looks back at her youth, the one thing that jumps out at her is “the love of food.” She remembers well harvesting crops from her grandparents’ gardens and even dressing game that came from the hunters in the family. “My grandparents had a huge garden. I remember the strawberries and the peppers and canning tomatoes and string beans. We would snap beans until my fingers were sore and I remember making scratch-made raviolis all the time. Dad’s side of the family were hunters and they only ate it if they caught it. Venison jerky and venison salami were staples.”
She continued: “I grew up with an Italian and Yugoslavian heritage and food was a big part of it. I remember my grandmother making spaghetti sauce and canning it and freezing it to eat all winter.”
This connection has clearly played an important role in Gina’s life as she has spent her entire working life in the food industry and calls cooking her number one avocation.
Her work career began at a small diner where she began washing dishes. She can still smell and visualize the garlic and onions that were the base of every dish. After a few years at the restaurant, she applied for a job at Lucky Stores in Jackson and was assigned to the meat department. She stayed with Lucky Stores for 13 years (1990-2003), all of it in that department. “I started as a clerk in the meat department but my meat managers were amazing,” she said.
She eventually became the butcher block manager, crediting several department managers who gave her a lot of autonomy and allowed her to gain invaluable experience. After about five years, she transferred to the Sacramento division and discovered she had an aptitude for store resets, store reopenings and new store grand openings. She loved her job and stayed there for about eight years. But a couple of friends who were employed at General Produce, including Director of Marketing & Communications Linda Luka, urged her to give that company a try.
In 2003, she interviewed for a job with third-generation owners Thomas and Daniel Chan and took a position “even though I knew nothing about produce. My friends told me I knew about sales and marketing and merchandising and I’d be able to figure it out.”
Initially, Gina said she was just an order taker, but eventually moved up to a buying position that was more like order fulfillment, and eventually became a full blown buyer. Over the past 15 years, “I’ve bought just about everything at one time or another: dry goods, garlic, carrots, wet veg, leafy greens, watermelons and cantaloupes…just about everything but fruit. I have even done a little buying of wood, cheese and olive oil.”
She explained that at least half of General Produce’s business is to the foodservice industry. Besides produce, some of their customers also buy cheese, olive oil and other items, including wood for wood burning pizza ovens.
Gina only expresses deep admiration for her colleagues and the owners of General Produce. “The owners, Tom and Dan, are such honorable people. They are forthright and fair. This is a great company to work for.”
While work does take up a great deal of Gina’s time, she has managed to create a nice work-life balance. “I live in Sacramento and have now been here for 25 years. I have a five year-old-son, Rex, who is awesome. He is the pinnacle of joy for me. My life is structured around him.”
Among her favorite pursuits is cooking. She claims to be “darn fair at it,” but admits that friends and families would give her even higher marks. And she is very happily sharing her love for food and cooking with her son. She calls “scratch-made” pumpkin pie one of her specialties and notes that this past year she and Rex planted pumpkin seeds, harvested the crop, scooped out the pumpkin meat, cooked and pureed it and made a “fantastic pumpkin pie. Everyone said ‘oh my god, this is so good’. I love hearing ‘you’re right’ but I think I like hearing how good my food is even more.”
As far as the produce industry is concerned, Gina knows she has found a home. She credits her first produce procurement director at General Produce, Mark Derby, with introducing her to the Fresh Produce & Floral Council and encouraging her to get involved and meet people.
“’Go out and see people,’ he always said. When there is an issue it puts a human face on the other end of the phone. I’ve made so many great friends in this industry. It’s a great community of people.”
(Editor’s Note: One suspects Gina’s friends are right about her cooking abilities. An internet search revealed that this recipe won first place in General Produce’s Summer Corn Recipe challenge in 2017.)
Gina Backovich’s Cobb Ice Cream with Smoky Corn Crack
2 ½ c Heavy Cream
1c Whole Milk
2 Corn Cobs cut in 1” chunks
3/4c granulated sugar
1/8tsp sea salt
7 large egg yolks
Simmer cream, milk, corn, sugar, and salt in pot on low heat until flavor of corn is infused throughout mixture, but do NOT boil. This will take about ½ hour. When done take off heat and run through metal strainer and return cream mixture to pot. Retain corn cob pieces. In separate bowl, whisk yolks. While stirring constantly so the yolks do not cook, slowly mix in about ¼ to a 1/3 of the cream mixture. When enough cream has been mixed in, whisk the yolk mixture back with the rest of the cream in the cream pot. Return the pot to medium-low heat and cook until mixture can coat the back of a spoon. Do NOT boil, and watch consistently so it does not curdle. Cut corn off of retained cob pieces and place in food processor with about 1 c of the cream mixture. Process until semi creamy and return to the rest of the cream mixture stirring thoroughly. Let stand at room temp until cooled and then refrigerate mixture for at least 8-10 hours (overnight is best).
When ready, churn cream mixture in your ice cream maker to that specific brands specs. I have a Kitchenaid, so put it in the ice cream bowl on Speed 1 for 15 minutes. When done churning, remove from mixing bowl and store in airtight container.
Smoky Corn Crack:
2 1/2c Water
1 Whole Vanilla Bean (split down center)
1 Corn Cobs cut in 1” chunks
2 c granulated sugar
1 ½ sticks Salted Butter
In a saucepan simmer water, whole vanilla bean, and corn until water has evaporated by about half. Pour the mixture through a metal strainer and discard the corn/vanilla bean. Return the water to medium-high heat and add the sugar stirring constantly. Mix until around 220 degrees and most of the water has evaporated. Then add the butter and continue stirring until around 290-30 degrees or ‘hard crack’ stage. It will be smoky. Immediately pour into a lightly greased 13×9 metal baking pan. When cooled, break apart smoky corn crack and sprinkle over cobb ice cream. Enjoy!