Kirsten Gilmour owner & head chef of the Mountain café Aviemore.
Winning a HITA title was the icing on the cake for our business.
My main vision when opening the café was literally to make very sexy café food using Scottish ingredients adding a Kiwi twist. I was not a businesswoman; I was just a very young passionate chef, who was full of ego and a non-stop energy to please my customers.
I was 26 when I held the keys to the Mountain café for the first time, 12 years ago. I was a chef de partie, I had never run a kitchen, never been a boss and had no idea even what gross profit was. It was one very steep learning curve.
I never imagined the café would become the success it has grown into. I thought I was opening a small lifestyle café in the Highlands of Scotland. I dreamt I would have a small team that would be like a big family.
I now employ 21 people and we serve roughly of 70,000 people a year.
People ask me all the time how did I do it, how did I take a run down tearoom and turn it into an award winning café? Hard graft, determination and pure stubbornness!
I always take on board what our customers have to say, I use their comments and feedback all the time to find our where we need to change and adapt the café.
I am still learning everyday about my business and I am still working hard at improving the experience for our customers.
In 2014 we won our first award “Best Café in Scotland” at the Scottish baking awards. It was such an achievement for our team and for me; it made all those never-ending nights in the early days baking and refusing to buy bought in cakes worth it.
Then in 2015, I received a letter saying we had been nominated for Best Informal Eating Experience at the Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards. I was so honoured and surprised to get as far as nomination.
I was in New Zealand at the time of the awards and we sent our manager Claire and sous chef Laura. I was half way up a hill on my bike when they phoned and I was completely stunned. I was standing in this incredible forest in the Marlborough sounds on the other side of the world, trying to take in we had won this huge award. They were so excited and screaming down the phone ‘we won, we won, we won’.
I was so proud and so chuffed they were getting this huge pat on the back. It was one of the proudest moments of my whole time at the café.
Going through the HITA process made us realise how many exceptional businesses there are around the Highlands and Islands. It was a really inspirational process for our team and it definitely inspired us to keep improving all aspects of the café.
It was great to sit around a table with a group of hard working individuals and have a night off celebrating the hard work, sweat and tears that we all put into our businesses.
We have had an incredible start to 2017 with The Mountain Café Cookbook hitting the shelves. I am very proud of the book, it was published in Scotland by a small independent publisher called Kitchen Press, our photographer is Aviemore-based and our Illustrator comes from Cromdale. The books were printed in Glasgow.
Again, it is everything I am staunch about – made locally, using local ingredients, Scottish artists and it heavily features recipes and stories from our team past and present.
I believe you can make anything in life happen if you believe in it enough. Winning a HITA award has inspired us to push for even greater success. It is an important part of our story and it could be part of yours too, so get those entries in.