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  • Suzy Bashford

Cooking through storms with award winning chef Kirsten Gilmour

Meeting KJ (right) recently at her Bothy Bakery in Grantown-on-Spey

Award winning chef Kirsten Gilmour appeared on episode 22 of the Big Juicy Creative podcast.

Quotes from my podcast conversation with award winning chef Kirsten Gilmour (KJ):

"My parents were basically children when they had me – my mum was 16 when she found out she was pregnant – it was never going to end well and it didn’t sadly. my muM left when I was 5 and I was brought up by my dad – very unusual in the 80s. Dragged along like a tom boy. For me the weekends were the magical part of the week for me because I got to go to my grandparents."

Having this lack of control when younger did cooking and its structureand focus make you feel in control?

"Very much so. You have to be really disciplined you have to be organised. It gives you a sense of control. Having that control makes you feel better in yourself and it’s quite a nice feeling. The chef that trained me in NZ was ex millitary and him and I hit it off straight away, he taught me discipline in a fun way but not a negative way."

You've talked about finding cooking a grounding experience?

"As soon as I get food in my hands I just feel at home and all those insecurities in my head of 'I can’t do this'' who am I to be standing up on the stage' just went – it was like right I’m going to rock out some choc and cardamom muffins and I’m going to talk to these people' [talking about her book launch].

What have you learnt about having the courage to put your voice out there?

Definitely a massive difference between men and women between all avenues in work especially in chefing. I’ve seen it through my career. Men are there saying 'look at this dish I’m amazing'. Ladies are in the background plodding away trying to get things perfect."


"Just not trying to be someone you’re not and not trying to please other people – I was quite bad at not wanting toshow people weakness for a long time. Being able to say 'I’m struggling or I'm not happy this is really hard actually' when you’re honest and you just tell people you’re struggling or its tricky it’s a strength and people are more receptive to that.

Taken that into my kitchen – if my staff make mistakes – it’s not oh look at you you’ve cocked up's how are we going to change that."

"I remember being that prima donna chef – chucking the chowder across the room.

I ver quickly learnt that wasn’t the person I wanted to be."

"Being a problem child – it was a cry for help as home was such a turbulent horrible place to be and it’s really sad that the teachers didn’t pick up on that. I was kicked out of maths being told I was going to be a miserable failure. I thought 'I'm really stupid and I am a miserable failure'".

"You will find your thing and you will find what you want to do in future, nana said"

"Whenever anyone tells me I can’t do something I just go out and do it"

"I’ve always said [to young employees] if you make a mistake own that mistake I’m not going to yell at you if you own it. But if you try and hide it or serve something you shouldn’t or try and cover it up that’s when you’re going to lose my trust and it’s about us being all more open to saying 'ok I’ve cocked up here' and not being yelled at'. I suffered from that a lot when young; it was pointed out and I was very much shamed for it."

"Think we need to tell people that it’s ok to make mistakes, that’s all part of learning"

"I've always really strugged with my mental health. Probably should have been picked up as being a depressive person. Part of why the café was a success –I was determined not to go down with depression. I wanted to please people and it to be a really welcoming place for people. Learnt over years needed to look after self better. Took a long time to learn."

And then your husband was diagnosed with incurable cancer?

"It was horrendous – I turnedinto my nan – you just zip up your mansuit and get on with it as best you can. I totally over extended myself."

"I had a breakdown – had 3 months off."

"I thought I’ll write loads of menus, start 2nd cook book... then I slept for about a month. I was on a really big whack of antidepressants. Diazepam to calm down. So anxious. I felt so broken the café could have burnt down and don’t think I would have reacted. Big deal going back. Now I see a counsellor every week. It's a chance for me to offload stress, to talk about Al’s cancer... she keeps me on track and well. Couple years ago wouldn’t have told anyone. I’m really proud of it now; it’s that hour I make for myself. To connect with how I’m feeling. All of us carry on trucking and not connecting to what is going on."

"[Looking after ourselves and giving ourselves time]is the way forward. Before lockdown I went to Venice for a week on my own. I ate slept and I read books and walked it was amazing. Who you going with? people would ask. When you say 'on my own' people think you are some kind of space cadet. I really like my own company gives you time to not have those conversation about work, or the house... feels like such a luxury. Some people really don’t get it, they ‘re not connected to that bit of them of what they actually need."

And then Covid came...

"I am fortunate to have had that hard childhood that I am so scared of failing. I’m not going to let myself go down. I have this fire in my belly of 'this is going to be ok'. I have this thought 'this is going to be ok'.

"Closing the cafe was heart wrenching. We knew we had £50k in supplier bills and no money coming in the door and I was responsible for 20 staff. Then I started cooking scones and selling them off my doorstep." [Now this has grown to the Bothy Bakery in Grantown on Spey]

What is success for you?

"It's about being part of the community and making a difference to other people’s lives and getting the best out of people... the most out of people.. just being a good person and feeling accepted into a community and making a difference really."

What's next?

"I'm writing another book. There will be a chapter on 'RIP Mountain Cafe' but it will focus on the Cairngorms National Park and this area where we live and all the amazing local produce"

Tips for getting through winter?

"A winter warming soup - like the cumin spiced apple soup on my website with apricots in it - feels like the perfect winter recipe! And... get a dog!"

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