James Close

The pro golfer turned self-taught chef is setting the North East on fire with his two-star restaurant The Raby Hunt. He talks to Blossom Green about technique, French flair and York’s best wine bar

How did your upbringing influence your food?

I used to go to the south of France and Île de Ré with my mum and dad on holiday and we’d always visit the markets. It was my first introduction to the country’s amazing food culture. As I’m self-taught and had no classical training, I tend to draw on experiences and recall flavour combinations to develop my style.

And how would you define your food style?

British food culture is hard to get to grips with. It’s all multicultural and my food evolves based on where I travel. That’s the merit of having no formal training – there are no restrictions as to what you create.

Any travel plans coming up?

Mexico! I’ve been to Mexico City but it was a bit chaotic and I didn’t really know where I was going, though I made it to Enrique Olvera’s Pujol. We’re going again on a road trip across the country. Then we’re off to Japan. I’m really into Japanese food. The techniques are unbelievable; from how they kill a fish down to how they serve it. They’re also obsessed with ingredients, as am I, so it’ll be a fantastic research trip.

Which restaurants have inspired you?

When I was starting out, El Celler de Can Roca in Girona stood out. It’s on another level. Their glass peach was one of the most memorable dishes I’ve ever had. It arrived at the table and I thought, ‘Wow, I didn’t even know you could do that’. I’m also into modern French, like La Maison Troisgros in Roanne, and chefs such as Andreas Caminada at Schloss Schauenstein in Switzerland. Both have wow-factor, which is something I appreciate running a destination restaurant. You’ve got to be different so that people want to make the journey to come and try your food.

Where’s the best place you’ve eaten recently?

I’ve just come back from Piazza Duomo in Alba, Italy and it was amazing. Christian Bau’s Victor’s Fine Dining in Germany was great, too. And in London, I really enjoyed A.Wong.

How about in the North East?

Some independent restaurants are doing really well but don’t get the limelight. Shaun Hurrell’s Barrio Comida in Newcastle is great. He really knows Mexican cuisine. There’s also The Patricia, a British bistro headed up by young chef Nick Grieves, which is the best place locally.

What’s on the table at home?

I always cook roast chicken on Sundays with leftover vegetables from the kitchen. Try brining the chicken for five hours before you cook it to get flavour deeper into the meat. In the restaurant we’re really focussing on reducing waste, so we use any leftovers for staff meals.

Where do you and the brigade go out for drinks?

Last week our sommelier took us to a top wine bar in York called Cave du Cochon. I try to maintain a friendly approach with my staff, but you can’t be too friendly; you’ve got to keep the right balance.

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