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The 84 Year-Old "Cracker Lady"

The 84 Year-Old "Cracker Lady"

Chicago Tribune

‘Cracker lady’ puts crisp snacks on exclusive tables

CHICAGO _ Inside a small brick building on Chicago’s North Side, an 84-year-old woman with pearls in her earlobes and, on occasion, mismatched socks on her feet, makes magnificent little crackers.

They come in 19 all-natural varieties, are slammed with tantalizing flavors like cranberries and peppers and have quirky names like “Love in the Afternoon” and “Your Wildest Dreams.” They are munched by patrons at more than 350 high-end grocers and hotel restaurants across the continent, including The Ritz-Carlton and The Trump International Hotel and Tower in Chicago.

The woman behind the cracker is Nicole Bergere, a former fashion and costume designer with short spiked blond hair who refers to those around her as “Miss Adorable” or “Little Girl.”

“She is a character,” said Mark Payne, executive chef at The Ritz-Carlton Chicago. “She normally gives me a hard time when she comes here.” He said Bergere brings samples for him to try. If he isn’t keen on one, she explains crisply why he’s wrong.

“She’s a very genuine person,” he said.

He said Bergere’s crackers and breads are served in the hotel’s bread basket and with its cheese plates.

“They’ve got a great flavor, nice and crispy,” Payne said, describing the appeal. “They’ve got some nice salt on them, a nice texture,” Payne said. “She is always consistent.”

Bergere said the concept is simple.

“The thrust of the company has been to build the cracker,” she said. “It’s taken people a long time to get it. But now, they get it.”

Three of Bergere’s crackers _ “Oh For the love of Herb,” “Your Wildest Dreams” and “Heaven is Lavender” _ won gold medals in 2005 and 2006 in an international gourmet food competition called the Great Taste Awards organized by The Guild of Fine Food. Bergere plans to enter the contest again in 2010.

While open about her recent history, Bergere is mysterious about her beginnings.

When asked where she grew up, she responded that it “doesn’t make any difference.” But according to a recent interview with a gourmet magazine, Bergere was born in France in 1925.