In the village of Summerhouse, UK sits The Raby Hunt Restaurant, a Michelin starred 30 seat fine dining establishment owned by the Close family. In the kitchen, you can find chef James Close, a former pro golfer turned chef, pouring his heart and soul into the food he describes as “Simplicity.”
We had the pleasure to sit down with him for an interview and asked him about his cooking, the culinary community, and his advice for aspiring chefs.
So, you’re a former professional golfer turned chef. How did this happen?
The transition from a pro golfer to chef isn’t as much of a transition as you would think. The key attribute in both careers is consistency and adaptability. Every day is changing and all elements need to be fine-tuned. So I think the change over was easy. The only thing that has really changed is the late nights and hours!
Can you tell us about the first time you found your passion for cooking?
I’ve been lucky enough to travel the world with my parents and subsequently, from a very early age, I’ve been able to eat at some of the best restaurants. I’ve always had a keen interest in food and combinations and have always been keen to cook.
What made you choose simplicity as your philosophy for cooking?
Simplicity is something I admire in food. When you use the best of produce it should not be complicated by contrasting flavors or needless theater. If you have the best and most fresh, why ruin that? Let your customers eat food as nature intended.
Where do you find inspiration and how does that influence the way you cook or plate?
I find inspiration by traveling, reading and learning. As I’m relatively new to the industry, everyday is about learning. I would imagine even chefs with 20-30 years in the industry still need to learn, but my steep learning curve means I must do it quickly.
Nature also inspires me while plating. I let the food do the talking – a fish should look like a fish, garnish should be recognizable, and the natural form of food should be apparent. I hate being confused as a customer so I try to avoid over-complicated and over-worked presentation. I want my customer to be able to relate to my food.
What is your process for creating a new dish concept?
New dishes can take seconds or even many years to finalize but like many artists that never tire of trying to improve a painting (would time allow them), I’m the same with my food. Take for example the Smoked Eel dish – that started out as a mere canapé and over the last 2 years has developed into a full dish. Which if I’m honest, I’m still working on it!
What are some things you can’t cook without?
I can’t cook without many things, but if I had to choose one it would be my Big Green Egg. It’s a very intuitive indoor BBQ that allows me to inject flavor within foods un-creatable by traditional methods.
What is a day in your life like?
A day in my life: I live, breathe, and sleep food. When I’m not working, I’m traveling to other restaurants in other parts of the world. When I’m relaxing, I’m doing it with a cookbook. I can’t switch off but sometimes I force myself for the sake of my family. When I can unfocus for a moment, I relax by spending time with my daughter Harriet and my partner Charlotte – who both thankfully understand me, the most.
What are some of the difficulties you have faced on this culinary journey?
My biggest difficulty has been produce. I found out very quickly that if you’re not extremely thorough in your ordering and with produce management it could lead to exponential problems. Now, after some very tough discussions with suppliers, they know I only demand the absolute best and thankfully they understand that. I’m now lucky enough to be in a position that my team and suppliers will only accept and deliver the highest standard of produce – from meat to even the smallest garnish.
What advice would you give someone aspiring to be a chef or restaurateur?
My advice for anyone wanting to set up a restaurant is to fully commit your life to it. Forget your social life. Forget your past-times. Work harder than you ever thought imaginable and then work even harder. Forget lay-ins. Forget your favorite TV program. Forget looking at the clock… Wake up everyday and excel. Never be satisfied. Never think you have made it. Never relax. Question everything you do. Adapt and remember to breathe. One day in the very, very distant future take a day off (only one!) and look back at what you have achieved.
You’re the only Michelin starred restaurant in the whole north east of England. What are your thoughts on the culinary community there and how would you like to see the area improve?
Being the only Michelin starred restaurant in the north east has its advantages, but if I’m honest, I hope what we have achieved here at the Raby Hunt only kick starts a wave of future restaurants in our area to gain success. There are some talented chefs in the north east and I hope next year to be joined by some of them to represent the north east in what is, at the moment, a little bit of a culinary black hole.
The Raby Hunt Restaurant