My Life’s Work | Iain Burnett, The Highland Chocolatier
In this weekly series, we meet a Walpole member chief executive to discover what makes them tick, how they define success, and what keeps them awake at night. This week, Iain Burnett, Master Chocolatier & CEO of “Iain Burnett Highland Chocolatier”.
World class Master Chocolatier Iain Burnett has become internationally recognised as a master truffle specialist for his unique truffle petit four – the Velvet Truffle®, created for high-end dining, events and VIP gift boxes.
After training under great Chocolatiers of the Belgian, Swiss and French schools Iain gained recognition as an artisan of rare quality chocolates with a long list of national and international awards. From his specially equipped chocolate kitchen in Perthshire, Scottish Highlands, Iain has developed the young family business into an unusually highly trained and passionate team delivering rare artisan quality to Michelin chefs, Master Distillers and discerning hotels and businesses.
WHAT DOES BRITISH LUXURY MEAN TO YOU?
I think “striving for excellence” on a daily basis is a route to creating genuine luxury and something an artisan is proud of and far above average.
WHAT’S YOUR VISION FOR THE HIGHLAND CHOCOLATIER?
Visions of mass production would conflict with what is at the heart of the business – artisan gourmet chocolates at a world class level of quality and a team whose satisfaction is based on creating something at that level – not just volume. The vision I have comes from on maintaining that world class level and raising greater awareness of what I do. This means constant refinement of the Velvet Truffle and continuing discovery of new possibilities from working with like-minded clients.
WHAT DO YOU CONSIDER YOUR GREATEST ACHIEVEMENT?
Prestigious achievements could include working with a 3 Michelin-star chef or making a truffle for Her Majesty with Her own blackcurrants. But perhaps more fundamentally important achievements would be discovering the artisan methods to make the Velvet Truffle, finding that single herd of Perthshire Friesians that produces the fresh cream, and identifying the rare cocoa from São Tomé which has the extra-ordinary flavour characteristics. Staying true on that journey has created the Velvet Truffles which in turn has provided a great local achievement – employment for over a dozen locals in a rural area.
HOW DO YOU DEFINE SUCCESS?
Personal success for me feels like knowing I’ve done my best. Business success ranges from providing positive local employment, to being profitable and fair, to seeing the “Wow!” impact when everyone from children to chefs first taste the Velvet Truffles.
WHAT’S YOUR GREATEST EXTRAVAGANCE?
The greatest personal extravagance that I perceive is the amount of time I spend on small details, when sometimes I really should just let go and get to the big picture!
WHAT DO YOU LIKE MOST ABOUT YOUR JOB?
As the CEO I don’t get told off for spending too much time on small details!
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR GREATEST REGRET?
Regrets are too easy retrospectively, but perhaps my greatest learning has been to have the confidence to keep the creation of world-class chocolates at the heart of our small family business.
WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
Wanting to create a pure, natural “naked” ganache with no chocolate shell, free from artificial additives. Being able to taste that difference continues to inspire me.
WHAT WAS YOUR BIG BREAK?
After three years and 150 variations to the recipe and processes, the Eureka moment of creating the unique texture and flavours of the Velvet Truffle continues to be a real blessing.
WHATS YOUR GUIDING PRINCIPLE?
Do your honest best. Then no matter if the results are the best or worst, you can sleep at night because you tried everything you could!
WHICH LIVING PERSON DO YOU MOST ADMIRE?
While I often blame my mother for passing on her perfectionist tendencies, it is also her strength and she is brilliant at connecting people.
WHICH WORDS OR PHRASES DO YOU MOST OVER USE?
“Dude!”, “artisan gourmet”, “oatcakes”, and “strive for excellence”
WHAT KEEPS YOU AWAKE AT NIGHT?
Relationships between people.
WHAT DO YOU MOST VALUE IN YOUR FRIENDS?
Honesty, passion and kindness.
IN A PARALLEL LIFE, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING?
Carpentry! If I wasn’t working with chocolate, I would definitely be working with wood – such an amazing material!
WHAT PIECE OF ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE SOMEONE ENTERING THE LUXURY INDUSTRY NOW?
Perhaps I would suggest they focus on what they are best at, and then hone their skills in that area. A sure way to achieve something great!