New Video: 'This is something that is a passion, but it does not dominate my life anymore'

The  Staff Canteen

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James Close is chef-patron of the Raby Hunt in county durham, which he runs with his wife maria who is also the pastry chef. boasting two Michelin stars, it started life as a pub serving basic food. now, 13 years later it's one of the UK's best restaurants and the 'style has changed dramatically'.

“If you look back to what we were at the beginning, it's completely opposite to what we do now,” explained James. "The first star was a very big achievement for the team and I remember [..] realising that what we're doing here actually works. For them to give me a star so early was more of a sign that we're on the right track.”

Despite now running a two Michelin-starred restaurant James’ goal was never to be Michelin starred as, in his words, “that's the wrong way to go about it.”

He said: “The main aim for me is to get better. 

Gunkan – Spiced Akami tuna, gunkan
Gunkan – Spiced Akami tuna, gunkan

"I always say to the chefs 'when you come in, we've got to be better than we were the day before' and with that mentality what normally happens is you'll achieve things. But that doesn't have to be Michelin stars.”

James feels that actively chasing accolades would, at least for him, ruin the experience of being a chef.

“Because we are so into food, if it became too much about Michelin stars and stuff, I think, the enjoyment would go out of it.”

Work-life Balance

Speaking of his early years running the restaurant James explained how he really lacked the work-life balance he now has and how before he lived above the restaurant, started work at 6:30am when he woke up, and finished work at 2am when he got back into bed.

The Raby Hunt
The Raby Hunt

Realising he didn’t want to do that, he said, was when the restaurant 'actually got better'. 

“For me, yes, the restaurant does have the importance, but for me to be successful it's more about health, mental health, wellbeing, all those sort of things. If I've got all of those, automatically this place will be a success.

He added: “I've got my daughter, I've got my wife, all those things are by far more important than [the restaurant]. This is something that is a passion, but it does not dominate my life anymore. Like it did in the early years.”

The Industry & Staff

James has seen the industry change and adapt to new needs but the current staffing issues are something that even he is dealing with.

He says the industry really needs 'to sort itself out' as despite the improvements being made, the message doesn’t seem to be getting 'out there to the younger generation'.

Unfortunately, James said: “They just see it as an industry where you work every night, [where] you work Saturday night, and you work Friday night.”

Nikkei Cuisine - Hamachi ceviche, ponzu, coconut foam
Nikkei Cuisine - Hamachi ceviche, ponzu, coconut foam

However, that really isn’t the case anymore, he said: “I know there's some chefs that are not going to be opening Saturdays and Sundays soon, they'll just open mid-week. Even destination restaurants like us, we might eventually do that.

“I think if I was out there wanting to be a chef, I would probably be more inspired now to get involved with this industry than I was 10 years ago. Because 10 years ago there's no way I'd want to step into a kitchen and never get a break. Whereas now, you can get the break, you can get a better wage, and you get more looked after.”

He added: “We need to get that message over to the people that want to be interested in food that this is not an old school industry anymore. It's pretty modern, it's laid back, it doesn't have to be shouting. It really is more balanced.”

Maria Guseva, Pastry Chef, The Raby Hunt
Maria Guseva, Pastry Chef, The Raby Hunt 

The Food

Five years ago James wanted to find his own style and the start of the menu now features food 'he likes to eat', it's called the Global section and it takes you on a trip of places James and Maria have been.

"It's not fusion it's straight technique and perfection with ingredients," he explained. He puts a lot of the restaurant's success down to the ingredients he uses.

"We set out to always use the best of the best. So, that's the best tuna, the best beef, the best langoustines. We set our stall out to be different to everybody else and regardless of what it costs, to put it on the menu.

"I became very obsessed with ingredients, learning how to handle them, and where to get them from, and everything like that. That's definitely contributed to where we are now."

 

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 8th July 2022

New Video: 'This is something that is a passion, but it does not dominate my life anymore'

IN ASSOCIATION WITH