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Say CHEESE! Vegan Cheese Shop Opening Soon

February 6, 2018

IMG_8124-2 (1)When you work for an organization like Growing Chefs! you get to spend time with the most amazing people! Enter Chef Karen McAthy of Blue Heron Creamery, one of our supporters and volunteers. She’s got some awesome news to share, and we were lucky to get the inside scoop.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

This is the hardest of all the questions to answer. I am a nerd, who likes to understand how things work, and have had the opportunity to do that as a chef for the last 7 years, and in cooking more generally for longer. I have been very fortunate to be able to have my career evolve along with my personal ethical choices, and have been focused on plant-based, vegan cuisine, and cooking methods for the past several years.

Working in the food industry was, for the longest time, only something I was doing until I planned to do my pH.D. But, in truth, I have been growing and cooking food and interested in doing things with food and feeding people for as long as I can remember. I never did the pH.D, and am not sure I regret that. I love being in the woods, or along the coastline, and if I have any opportunity to do things that take me to those spaces, I am eager to jump on those. I grew up on a tiny island, Cormorant Island (Alert Bay), and so, the ocean and all the diversity of life that lives along the coast are near and dear, all the time.

Colin, my business partner, was a regular guest of mine, while I was the executive chef at Graze, and he used to come in with his wife. Together they had a company called Feed Life, (which he still has), a nutrition and wellness company, and I had done a few recipes for one of their holiday e-books featuring local plant-based chefs and recipe developers. Sadly, his wife passed, but Colin has maintained his interest in plant-based wellness, and we reconnected in early 2016, and this has evolved into both a strong business partnership and a great friendship.

Colin is a firefighter with the Richmond fire dept, and the co-author of the Juice Truck book, a musician, and herbalist, and brings the light, and faith and belief to my intensity, drive and well, probably, oddballness.

BHwindowAndreTell us about Blue Heron Cheese.

downloadIn 2014, I was approached by an editor from New Society Publishing at RIPE (the YLFMS annual fundraiser), and in the midst of the busy evening was asked if I might be interested in writing a book about plant-based cheesemaking. While Graze closed in 2015, I continued my research and development in writing the manuscript, and the book was published in May of 2017: The Art of Plant-Based Cheese Making.

After Graze I moved to another chef post at a different vegan restaurant, and it became clear by early 2016 that interest in what I was doing was not abating (vegan cheeses!), and that I wanted to give more focus to it. So, the name Blue Heron popped into my head (I’ve always found myself drawn to herons, and I have a tattoo of one I got many years ago). Herons are intentional, they maintain focus for long periods of time, they can interact socially when necessary, but also are solitary. I love watching their elegant, precise movements at Spanish Banks.

I reconnected with Colin, and we had the support, help, and effort from two others, Eden and Zoe, who are both incredible forces in what they do (Eden runs the kitchen at Eternal Abundance, Zoe is a force with Music Heals and a member of the Vegan Project).


Eventually, Colin and I got ourselves sorted into the current formal business of Blue Heron, and after a year-long r &d process of refining methods and recipes and approaches, we are now in the position of opening a modest storefront in East Van.

Tell us about the new shop you are opening in Vancouver at 2410 Main St.

The shop is a bit of an accident. We were initially looking just for a larger, secluded production site, but then this opportunity arose. We get to be next door to another great vegan, plant-based business, Friendly Snackbar and have had such great support from Lisa (Wallflower Diner), and now we are opening a shop.

We’re excited about the new branding developed for us by graphic designer, Dima Yagnyuk, of The Graphic Design Studio, feel like the new direction is well suited to some of our longer-term goals for evolving Blue Heron.

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The storefront is small and intimate, and we were very hands-on in the finishing. I and my tattoo artist/best friend, Ciara (Sticks and Stones Tattoo Studio) did the illustration art on the feature wall, and I designed and built the front counter table (with the build really being guided by Brad of Biota Fermentation), and we’ve been building our own sandwich boards etc. 

The shop will focus on selling our cultured, young and aged vegan cheeses, yogurts, sour cream, butter (both cultured and not), preserves that we make, and fermented goods from our producer friends, such as Biota, Hoochy Booch, etc.

Why do you think organizations like Growing Chefs! that teach kids about growing and cooking their own food are important?

I grew up in Alert Bay, and with parents both from agricultural backgrounds, we always had a vegetable garden at home. The elementary school also had a garden, and so I grew up with this focus on knowing where your food comes from. Our early teachers and elders in the community always emphasized the importance of caring for the land and the sea, and our impact as humans on the environment.

I think what Growing Chefs! is doing is critical for urban environments, where it is so incredibly easy to become disassociated from how food is grown, produced, altered, etc. Knowing how to grow and cook food, connects you to the idea of land stewardship, and to self-care and knowing how to feed yourself. At every opportunity through the process, there is an opportunity to learn self-reliance, responsibility for the spaces we live in, and a sense of connection to each other.

What advice would you give to a child who is interested in becoming a chef?

It is not like it seems on tv shows. Be willing to learn, be willing work hard, be willing to commit yourself, acknowledge that mistakes will be made, that perfection doesn’t exist even if it is a goal, that amazing things can sometimes happen from mistakes.

Make caring about the food system part of your thinking as a chef. Food security for all people and reducing food waste are no longer things that should be separate from one’s participation in their career as a chef. And because, it is still the best part, learn, learn, learn, explore, explore, explore!

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