An Award Winning Scottish Chef

Haggis, neeps and tatties; the bangs and crackles of Hogmanay and the feasting of Burns Night are just around the corner.  To celebrate Scottish cuisine we talk to David Littlewood, Scotland’s Chef of the Year 2013, about winning the coveted prize and his business venture at the Kildrummy Inn.

Scottish Chef of the Year David Littlewood

Who/what inspired you to become a chef and set up the Kildrummy Inn?

My parents worked in the service industry so I grew up in it. I’d always worked part-time in a kitchen whilst studying at college and university. I realised that I was much happier in the kitchen than I was studying and I thought that it was much more important to do what I knew made me happy rather than a job I thought should make me happy. 

I was encouraged to enter competitions and started training with the Scottish Culinary Academy.

Having been a finalist in the 2009 and 2011 ScotHot’s, did you feel extra pressure to win the 2013 competition?

I put a lot of pressure on myself, having been a finalist twice before but entering the third time, I knew what I was getting into and I was accustomed to all the distractions. I was able to get my head down and focus – having said that, I felt that if I wasn’t successful this time, I wouldn’t enter again!

What do you think set your dishes apart from the competitors?

Simplicity! The best chefs always say concentrate on flavours and execution so I focused on clean flavours, seasoning and the execution.

After submitting the dishes I was really worried that they were too simple for this level of cooking and going into the finalists’ dinner I didn’t feel confident that I had the winning menu.

How does your location influence your business? E.g. menu/community involvement/environment?

The Kildrummy Inn is a traditional rural inn set on the edge of Cairngorms National Park so it feels like the middle of nowhere but it’s only half an hour away from Aberdeen and just a few minutes from the local town.

It’s a very seasonal place and we have a big local following.

What is your unique selling point? What makes the Kildrummy Inn stand out in such a competitive market?

It’s the only place you’ll find the Scottish Chef of the Year 2013!

Our USP is showcasing the fantastic local ingredients Scotland has to offer and producing simple, well executed food in a traditional Scottish inn.

How do you react to the changing marketplace?

If you ask a chef what their job is they might say writing and plan menus, but I say my job is to make people happy with food.

After I’ve taken out the last plates of a service, I go round to every table and talk to the customers and ask them if there’s anything that I can do better or if there’s something that they would like to see on the menu. I work really closely with the suppliers and have a small, regularly changing menu so if there’s something that a customer would like to see such as duck or venison then I will happily put it on the menu…

What would you say is the biggest challenge facing foodservice businesses like yourselves today? How did you manage to survive the recession?

The difficulty in the food industry is that the cost of feeding cattle is spiralling, which means the farmer has to put his prices up and then so do the butchers - as the last ones in the chain we have to make the decision if we’re going to put our prices up or absorb it so the customer isn’t affected, because they are feeling the pinch too…

As a business, what are you doing to overcome this challenge?

We decided to be creative and look at serving less expensive cuts of meat such as shin and cheek alongside expensive cuts such as fillet which you expect when you eat out.

This means we’re not only supporting our supplier by buying not so popular cuts of meat which can be difficult to sell, but we’re also serving something a bit different which people may not have tried before.

What is the biggest business mistake you’ve made and what key learning did you take from it to make your business better?

When I bought the Kildrummy Inn I didn’t do as much homework as I should have and this resulted in having to replace a very old oil burner which was an extra cost that I hadn’t budgeted for…

What is the best piece of business advice you’ve ever been given? What is the one piece of advice you would give to other chefs/entrepreneurs looking to succeed in the industry?

Firstly, listen to your customers, if a customer want’s a well done steak then they’ve ordered it because that’s how they like it – don’t ever think you know better. Secondly, listen to everyone else, because they are a potential customer.