For the love of bacon and giving back

By Penny Nakamura For The Bulletin

Since starting Bleu Bite Catering four years ago, Cerstin Cheatham’s basic philosophy has always been to offer a sustainable catering business with a focus on good deeds.

“I always believe in helping out the community you live in,” said Cheatham, who every year donates at least $10,000 to $15,000 in food and services to charitable organizations in Central Oregon. She recently donated $8,000 in food and services to the Bend TedX conference. “I think you should always pay it forward, when you’ve been so fortunate. It’s just good karma.”

Good, down-home karma is what you’ll also find in Cheatham’s postmodern kitchen, which she and her family took on as a remodeling project a few years ago.

“We bought this home as a fixer-upper. It had been a rental, and it was a mess. It had peeling Formica countertops and floors,” said Cheatham. “I wanted a modern kitchen, but one that fit with the period of when this house was built.”

Cheatham says the kitchen remodel was sort of an “all hands on deck” project, where even her 76-year-old mother, Sue Cheatham, helped lay new oak floors.

“We bought all of the cupboards and counters from Ikea, and we installed it all,” said Cheatham. The homey kitchen sports old-fashioned reproduction white wainscot cupboards and butcher-block countertops. As a professional cook, Cheatham decided to use stainless steel backsplashes around her kitchen because she liked the look and appreciated the practical side. “It’s easier to clean,” she said.

Cheatham surrounded herself with antiques in the kitchen, which she said gives the room its good karma as most of them have a personal story behind them.

A hanging line of antique corkscrews was a gift from her mom, who had collected them for her over several years. Old black-and-white framed family photos hang above the corkscrews.

Just around the corner is a large armoire, which holds special drinking glasses, collected over several decades.

“That (armoire) was brought over in a covered wagon from the East Coast in the 1850s, and my 98-year-old grandmother just had it in the garage,” said Cheatham, as she opened the bottom drawer of the armoire, pulling out old silver plates, bowls and candlesticks. “Whenever we had a birthday, my grandmother would wrap a piece of silver in foil and put it in our birthday cake so we would find it.”

Cheatham grew up in a family with the tradition of giving.

Her first foray into the food and beverage industry was with a bar she and her sister owned called Evil Sisters, a popular hangout for snow riders.

Cheatham says she feels blessed that she’s been able to run businesses that she loves.

However, she cautions that the love of cooking is just one of many ingredients you need to be successful in the competitive world of catering.

Though she didn’t attend culinary school, Cheatham holds a business and finance degree, subjects she feels have been vital for her business, along with marketing and good customer relations.

She built the business from scratch, knowing she was a good cook. But she says she had to have a dash of good luck, a pinch of moxie and a whole heaping mound of hard work and hustle.

Before she started Bleu Bite Catering, Cheatham had started out much smaller, delivering sandwiches to businesses around town. Back then she called her company Incredible Edibles.

The little business thrived, and soon Cheatham was being asked to cater parties and business events, and from those auspicious beginnings, she went to the Bend Wedding Expo in 2009 and was promptly booked for 11 summer weddings.

This summer Cheatham says Bleu Bite Catering is turning away some brides and grooms because she can only sanely book three weddings per Saturday during the busy summer wedding season.

“I would like to expand my business so I don’t have to turn anyone away,” said Cheatham, who employs nine staff chefs and 25 servers.

She jokes that it’s probably better to get married on a Friday or a Sunday in the summer, or better yet, a Tuesday.

What are three ingredients you’ll always find in your home kitchen cupboard and/or refrigerator?

Cheese, tortillas, pasta.

What is your favorite home meal you like to prepare?

I love to grill anything — veggies, linguica, steaks, burgers, bread and fruit for dessert with ice cream.

What is your favorite home appliance in your kitchen?

Blender to make my green drink!

What is your favorite hand tool/cooking utensil in your kitchen, other than a knife?

Rubber spatula; tongs are a close second.

Is there an appliance you disdain having in the kitchen?

I really don’t like gadgets.

How is your home kitchen different from your commercial kitchen/workspace?

My work kitchen has a lot of stuff for every need; home kitchen is simple and relaxed.

Do you have a favorite cooking memory? Or favorite memorable meal you prepared?

When my daughter Carsyn was younger, she used to help me in the kitchen preparing dinner. We would pretend we were filming a cooking show. We would keep in character until it was time to eat.

Favorite room you like to eat your meals?

Outside whenever possible and before the bees hit!

Best meal you’ve ever eaten in your life?

I’m still searching for it. I do have lots of memories from my 20s when I first started going to restaurants often. Because it was all so new to me, several meals at restaurants in the Northern California area stand out.

Guilty food pleasure?

Bacon, Brie cheese and ice cream.

If you could invite three guests to dinner, who would they be? (Can be dead or alive.)

Martha Stewart, Warren Buffett and Eric Clapton. Three gods in their own ways!

What do you like to do outside of the kitchen? In other words, what happens when the chef’s toque comes off?

Lots of yard work and gardening — I love it and find it relaxing. Spend a lot of time with family. Currently in the middle of refinishing all my lawn furniture.

If you weren’t in the food industry, what profession would you have chosen?

I really enjoy fixing up/remodeling old houses, so I think flipping houses would be another great profession. I wish I could do both.

Favorite food quote or philosophy, you often repeat to yourself?

“Everything’s better with bacon!” I believe it and have to show enormous restraint.

— Reporter: pnakamura@bendbulletin.com

Andy Tullis / The Bulletin The decorations on the kitchen wall of Cerstin Cheatham's kitchen give the space an eclectic, warm feel.
Andy Tullis / The Bulletin Cerstin Cheatham pulls wax paper from an antique holder hanging in her kitchen.
Andy Tullis / The Bulletin A collection of old bottle openers hangs in Cerstin Cheatham's kitchen.
Andy Tullis / The Bulletin Cerstin Cheatham, owner of Bleu Bite Catering, pauses with a smile while talking and cutting veggies in her home kitchen.
Andy Tullis / The Bulletin Cerstin Cheatham, owner of Bleu Bite Catering, cuts veggies in her home kitchen, which is rustic and warm.
Andy Tullis / The Bulletin Cerstin Cheatham, owner of Bleu Bite Catering, turns the light on inside an antique armoire that was handed down to her.
Andy Tullis / The Bulletin Cerstin Cheatham, owner of Bleu Bite Catering, makes a chicken salad in her home kitchen.
Andy Tullis / The Bulletin Cerstin Cheatham, owner of Bleu Bite Catering, pulls a silver candle holder and plate out of an antique armoire in her Bend home.
Andy Tullis / The Bulletin Cerstin Cheatham's kitchen looks out into this family room.