Bothy Diaries part 3: the early days
What is success? Is it running a Café that is so popular people happily queue down the stairs for a table and make detours of hundreds of miles to eat your food? Is it winning numerous awards and getting famous TV chefs drooling over your Millionaire’s Shortbread? Well yes, that’s surely success. But there is another kind of success too. It’s picking yourself up after the biggest kick in the guts imaginable. It’s refusing to lie down and give in even when the odds are stacked against you. It’s realising you can only survive by re-inventing your business – and being willing to do that. It’s being able to work in a tiny domestic kitchen and still produce bread and cakes that people can’t get enough of.
When I came to work with Kj at the Mountain Café I was hoping to learn new culinary skills and grow in my understanding of running a successful Café. I learned that, but I also learned what it means to be resilient, determined, brave and bloody-minded.
When it became clear that re-opening the Aviemore premises was no longer an option, Kj started building a new dream. The Bothy Bakery was born and with each passing week grew bigger and better. Two more staff were un-furloughed – Kazza (Mumma Bear) and Megan (Baby Bear) and an actual bread oven was purchased. But it wasn’t all cakes and cream, let me give you an insight into some of the ‘fun’ we had…
The Crab Walk We quickly evolved a new method of getting from A to B. Instead of moving in a normal forward-facing motion we found ourselves scuttling sideways, breathing in and leaning slightly backwards in an effort to a) maintain required social distancing b) not trip over the flour bin in the middle of the floor and c) exit the kitchen safely whilst holding a tray of hot bread and simultaneously negotiating two steps and sharp left turn.
Dishwash Jenga Jenga in the Bothy Bakery was not building precarious towers out of wooden blocks, but our term for the way we stacked the endless pots, pans, buckets, trays, bowls and tubs that we washed by hand each day. A crash from the laundry was quickly greeted by shouts of “Jenga” from ‘sympathetic’ colleagues, who were actually just glad it hadn’t happened to them and also secretly pleased that the spatula they needed had just been revealed beneath the pile.
Collapsing Chocolate Cakes
What used to be a perfectly reliable recipe for a delicious, moist chocolate cake became, in a domestic oven, a roulette wheel of unpredictable collapsing catastrophes. To make things worse the cakes would often come out of the oven looking perfect. Within a few moments, however, a small tell-tale crack would appear on the surface. At this point it was still possible to pretend that everything was going to be fine. Then, before your disbelieving eyes, the crack would become a crater, a gaping chasm right where the middle of the cake was supposed to be. Where did all that cake actually go? I have no idea, but it certainly wasn’t where it was supposed to be. A few times we filled the holes with icing and hoped for the best but more than once we resorted to eating the failed cake and adding a few more inches to our lockdown love-handles.
Bin trampoline I’m sure waste disposal by the Highland Council is perfectly adequate for most domestic scenarios. It’s just not really adequate for a pop-up bakery that’s taking the UK by storm. Bin trampoline became Kj’s favourite means of exercise and involved jumping up and down on the piles of rubbish bags to make them fit in a space half the size of their natural capacity. The alternative, adopted quite regularly, was to surreptitiously lob bags into the neighbour’s bins, preferably when they were away.
Meet the team: small but beautiful
It's all about the people right? And what a great bunch they are...
Kazza (a.k.a Mumma Bear) Mumma Bear hails from Wick and has an accent that can mystify an English
girl at ten paces. Mostly Kj interprets for me, but sometimes even she hasn’t a clue, at which point we both just nod and smile. Kazza also has a filthy laugh and a minor wind problem. Put those two things together and you end up with gales of uncontrollable and contagious laughter at inappropriate moments. Like when Kj was discussing wholesale business with the Rothiemurchus Estate Manager. And when Kj was discussing supplying Millionaire Shortbread to House of Bruar with the owner (“I’ve got a wee shop on the A9”). And when Kj was discussing… ok, you get the picture. She can also sell ice to Eskimos so she’s pretty much our Head of Sales and will definitely flog you half price scones if you catch her at the end of the day with stock to shift.
Megan (a.k.a Baby Bear) Megan is Mumma Bear's daughter. Definitely. Not my daughter, not Kj’s daughter, not Al’s secret love child. She has been mistaken for all of the above (ok, maybe not the last one) and
although Kj is old enough to be her mum, I’m definitely not (or is it the other way round? I forget.) Megan has been called the life and soul of the party and it’s hard to disagree – she is full of fun and craziness to brighten up our days – although anyone daring to insert an ‘h’ into the middle of her name will unearth her dark side, so beware. Her favourite job in all the world is cleaning dried meringue off the mixer at the end of the day, so Kj always makes sure she leaves it for her to do, as it’s important to keep Baby Bear happy.
Yes, he’s Kj’s husband but more importantly he is our Postmaster General. When we started posting Millionaire’s Shortbread the length and breadth of the UK it was Al who orchestrated the operation as if it were a military operation (an operation like, let's say, the battle of Waterloo, as opposed to the Charge of the Light Brigade - mostly). He oversaw the hours and hours of wrapping, labelling and weighing of parcels, and woe betide anyone who didn’t double bubble wrap a cookbook. If you received your Bothy Bakery treats in one piece and on time, it’s thanks to Al. If you didn’t he knows nothing about it, blame Royal Mail.
Possum Possum is Kj's beloved cat and is about 700 years old. You’d be forgiven for thinking, however, that Possum is Kj and Al’s infant son, about 8 months old and teething. The wailing and crying that came from that cat on a daily basis had to be heard to be believed and for no good reason other than we’d forgotten to get wet cat food. He obviously didn’t hold a grudge though because he’d regularly bring gifts of bleeding, wriggling mice which he’d devour in the laundry, crunching and munching with such relish that nothing remained but a spatter of blood. Always fun when mopping at the end of the day.
Jura Ah, handsome boy and wonderpup, Jura rules the roost. He kept himself busy every day working from Kj’s kitchen, purposefully marching around with his toys and only occasionally wanting you to play a game of fetch just when you were trying to ice a collapsing chocolate cake. He must have put on a few pounds scoffing cake crumbs from the floor, but at least it saved time on sweeping at the end of the day.
Kai The newest addition to the team but by far the most adorable. Kai the puppy makes coming to work a pleasure – arriving at 7am on a cold, dark, wet morning is made infinitely better by a pup who greets you with snuggles, licks and a little bit of excited pee on your shoes. You only get that sort of welcome from Kj if she’s in a really, REALLY good mood.