Vancouver Island Salt Co. was established in January 2010 by Andrew Shepherd. After more than a decade as a chef, working in top restaurants and catering companies across Canada, South Australia, and an award winning run in Feilding, New Zealand at Sage Cafe, it was time for a change. For the last few years, Andrew has been dedicated to the world of gourmet retail foods, where the idea for V.I.S.C. was formed. Andrew and V.I.S.C. are excited to be able to add something unique to BC’s thriving local food scene, while at the same time offering products that are all natural and sustainable.
What inspired you to start V.I.S.C?
Someone told me it couldn’t be done. So I proved them wrong, and in doing so got some salt into the hands of the right people… who freaked out! Based on the reactions of the first people to see my local sea salt, I knew there was potential.
How many different flavours of salt do you produce?
Well over 20. We chop and change our line up all the time, it keeps us interested at work and it keeps our market tables and store shelves fresh.
How do you recommend customers cook with V.I.S.C?
I recommend they cook with VISC salts often… well I guess it depends on what salt they have, the infusions are mostly finishing salts, usually best applied at the table or very late in cooking. The smoked salts are great for summer bbq’s and grilling, and the straight sea salt is really a great sea salt that can be used in all cooking applications. Fair warning, my salt is strong and recipes will need to be adjusted.
Can you tell us about the process that goes into making V.I.S.C products?
Time is the biggest thing that goes into our salts, everything we do takes multiple days. You could say we are the ultimate in slow food. We force the evaporation of sea water, which is a fancy way to say we boil water. The Pacific Ocean is 3.4% salt which means it takes a lot of water to get a little salt, last week we boiled over 11,000 Litres of sea water.
The smoked salts are cold smoked in custom built salt smokers for 4 to 5 days. What we are focused on is building up a thick smoke that will cover the salt grains with tasty resin.
The infusions which are the most fun, are made by taking wet, unfinished salt earlier in the harvesting process, blending in our infusion flavours (blue cheese, balsamic, garlic, etc.) and then slowly drying them out together to allow for a bond to take place. We’ve been able to get some pretty amazing infusions to take place, both in flavour and color.
Are there any future plans you can tell us about?
We have just finished up a much needed expansion to allow us to keep up with demand, and continue spreading east with our distribution. What is really cool about our expansion is that we have converted our new production line to run on used vegetable oil. Locally here in the Cowichan Valley there is a wealth of renewable energy knowledge, so I hooked up with Brian and Daryl of the Cowichan Energy Alternatives who helped guide the way for the switch to using waste veggie oil as a fuel source. It’s actually a really neat cycle; restaurants that use my salt are also helping to create the salt by making sure the used grease gets into the right hands.
What are some challenges you have faced launching your business? What advice would you give to people looking to start their own business?
I’ve been really fortunate with all the support I’ve had with this venture and it’s been a pretty fast jump from idea to full time occupation. But at the end of the day, no one had started commercially harvesting sea salt in Canada before me for a reason… it’s really hard! Even now with a dramatically improved production line, the amount of labour involved in harvesting and finishing the salt is staggering.
I would advise people interested in starting a business to find something that you can be first at. Let’s face it, the media can make or break a business, but you won’t get any coverage at all if you are just doing the same old same old. Think outside the box.