Women Of The Food Industry – Ghillie Basan, Food Writer
Ghillie Basan is coming to Food On The Edge 2019 to host a food story about Spirit & Spice, her most recent book.
Ghillie Basan is busy promoting her most recent book Spirit & Spice (affiliate link). It tells stories of food and whisky. She talks about spices and mixing them up with the most local Scottish ingredients. Much like Ireland, I believe modern Scottish food to be ready to be discovered.
Through the stories in her books, Ghillie Basan tells us tales of her family life in the Scottish Highlands. She lives an outdoors life, foraging, smoking, preserving and using all these great conservation techniques. As there is a wine for every dish, so is there a whisky and Ghillie is there to teach us about the ideal pairings.
If you get a chance to see her at Food On The Edge, grab it for she is a renowned story teller.
Also because, I’m a terrible medler, I would love Ghillie Basan to meet up with Suzanna Crampton. I suspect they may have a lot in common.
I’m talking to women the food industry. How did your career path bring you here?
My childhood was spent in East Africa where I was immersed in tropical ingredients, Arab and Indian customs, tribal traditions, and bush cooking. This probably sparked my interest in people and food, which led to a university degree in Social Anthropology and over 40 books on different culinary cultures. I now spend most of time hosting people from all over the world in my remote home sharing my knowledge of flavour and spices as we cook together to pair food with whisky in a unique culinary experience..
How does your career fulfill you?
Over the years I have received amazing hospitality, often from the poorest people who simply share what they have, so this is what I offer in my humble home. By opening my doors and sharing my home, my view, my stories, food and whisky, I give people an authentic and inspiring experience that they won’t forget. Their joy and appreciation gives me great pleasure.
What are your professional ambitions? What’s next for Ghillie Basan?
In order to inspire others, I need to be inspired too so I hope to keep travelling, learning and meeting people and my ultimate goal is to make documentary films about inspiring women.
In your opinions, what challenges women face in the food industry?
I have always been a one-woman band in the industry so I only hear some of the challenges women face but I don’t necessarily see them. There does seem to be a need to increase the recognition of women but it can also be very difficult to juggle pregnancy and child rearing with the demands and hours of the food and hospitality industry. As a single parent, I had to write all of my books at night and be mum during the day.
Tell us of one woman in the food industry who consistently inspire you and why?
Kirsten Gilmour, a Kiwi chef who owns the Mountain Café in Aviemore. She was a little out of her depth when she began but has managed to turn the Café into a hugely popular, award-winning place – often against all odds as she has battled mental illness and continues to deal with her husband’s incurable cancer. She is creative, hard working, passionate about her business and her staff, and very real – all the things that inspire other women as she has to juggle the troubles of life while continuously upping her game.
What do you think can be done to help raise the profile and visibility of women in the food industry?
They need to be included more in the discussions and decisions; they need to be supported by other successful women (women at the top are not always good at that); they need recognition for the balancing role they may play in their day-to-day lives, how this can be frustrating from a career point of view, and how hard it can be to keep a position or get back on track.
For example, I have been in the food industry for over 35 years and many of my books have been go-to ones for celebrity chefs and, for some cultures, they have been the first of their kind. I have also raised my children single-handedly in a remote part of the Scottish Highlands where I am self-sufficient, chop my own logs, and ski 3 miles a day to bring in supplies in winter. I have managed to be a hands-on mum in this wild landscape while maintaining an international career. I don’t know many men who could lead my life but, if I could raise my profile and show other women what is possible, it might help some achieve their goals no matter what life throws at them.
I think that the only way to raise the profile and visibility of women in any industry is to talk to ‘real’ people – people who really have stories to share and can inspire others – like Kirsten Gilmour (above). In my opinion, most women are more interesting than most men and they really could help each other!!
What was the proudest moment of your career so far?
Possibly the publication of my new book, Spirit & Spice. It arose out of desperation to save my home and my lifestyle as I hit rock bottom after caring for my mother who has dementia. When I tried to get back on my feet I contacted some of my publishers with a new book proposal but it was rejected due to my lack of social media following (I had never done any social media at that point) but I was told I could help celebrities write their books. When I spoke to one social media celebrity who wanted to write a book on Moroccan food I was shocked to discover that he didn’t know anything about the culture, he had never been there, he didn’t speak Arabic of French, but he had several of my books to use as guides! I felt such despair at the thought that people with no experience and no knowledge could write books by using other people’s work and began to accept that I would never write a food book again. I also found a young person to teach me how to do social media and, ironically, it was my instagram account featuring food and life in the hills that attracted a small Scottish publisher. After years of writing about other cultures and not about myself, the publisher was keen for me to share my story as well as the food, whisky and hospitality. So, I am proud of this book as it is the first one to feature my life and my children and it reminds every day how important it was to save what we have.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Be confident in who you are and in your achievements so that you enjoy life more. I was bold but never confident.
What are the top skills required to do your job and why?
Patience. Long hours of hard work. Warm hospitality. My work is rooted in hospitality but, in order to make everything run seamlessly and to enable people to feel at home, a lot of work goes on behind the scenes. Most of my work revolves around the culinary experiences I host with whisky and food and around my podcasts with people linked to food and drink in Scotland. For both of these to work, people need to feel relaxed and comfortable. Sometimes, they need to feel special.
What is a good introduction to peated scotch?
If you don’t like peaty whiskies, or you are not sure of them, then a good introduction would be the peated Nadurra from The Glenlivet Disitllery. This is a cask strength expression with citrus and vanilla notes but it has been finished in peaty casks, which lend a lovely warm but mild smokiness to the spirit.