Chef’s Table

James Close, head chef at The Raby Hunt, the region’s only Michelin-starred restaurant, joins Luxe to share food tales and adventures

I’ll be starting 2014 by heading off to the French Alps for a breather after what’s been a busy few months in and out of the restaurant. I enjoyed my first Christmas as a dad – our daughter Harriett is now eight months old and her present was a little trike with a trug-like basket on the back, a carefully thought-out gift – I am already planning to take her on some fungus foraging missions near my parents’ home in Hamsterley to fill that trug.

People ask what does a chef eat for Christmas lunch? I took on the challenge of something different for us this year with capon from a supplier called St Brides based in South Lanarkshire. The farm rears slow-growing chicken breeds which live a totally free-range life until they reach 14 weeks – three times older than conventional hens.

They live on non-GM grain, as well as grubbing in the long grass of their field for insects, and are treated to a bag of mash from the nearby Strathaven Ales Brewery every now and then, which clearly makes for happy birds.

The chickens arrived a week before Christmas and we hung them in the fridge so the air could circulate around them. I took the legs off and made a confit with them. On Christmas day I was in charge of the bird – but mum did the vegetables! I cooked the chicken breast to 62 degrees so it was really moist and succulent and we had the confit legs alongside. The flavour of the bird was amazing – it was a bit of a test run for the restaurant as well – we’re definitely planning to bring the capon to our menus in February.

Our family tradition is a chocolate roulade for dessert as well as Christmas pud. Christmas morning breakfast and we had a glass of our favourite Philipponnat rose champagne with some wonderful dry smoked salmon and scrambled egg from our local fishmonger, Hodgson’s. I cook the scrambled egg slowly – line a pan with a little bit of butter, add eggs and cream and served slightly underdone. Very good start to any day, Christmas or not.


Enjoying a glass of

With our Christmas lunch we had one of our favourite wines – a spectacularly good pinot noir from Germany – Weingut Bernhard Huber, Baden Malterdinger Spätburgunder. It’s from Baden, the southernmost – and warmest – German wine region where the sunny climate replicates the best French Burgundy. This wine is light in colour, cherry-flavoured, soft and so easy-drinking you have to open another pretty quickly.


Ingredient

Rhubarb shed

Forced Yorkshire rhubarb is a chef’s best friend at this time of the year – I get very excited about it – we snuck some in to the New Year’s Eve tasting menu. It is really versatile and has such a fantastic flavour that makes you think about the freshness of new season produce.

I like to create rhubarb textures served with Brillat Savarin cheese ice-cream.


Local hero

Grower Ken Holland from Vallum Farm in Northumberland is a magician in the polytunnel. He supplies the best restaurants in the country and has risen to the challenge of growing some amazing new ingredients for me – I am currently on with designing new dishes to showcase them – but not revealing any secrets just yet!


Planning a visit

I need to get out and about to visit restaurants that are being talked about – that might mean a swift Eurostar journey or just a trip across the Pennines or on the East Coast to Edinburgh. One place I want to visit is Manchester House, Aiden Byrne’s place in, guess, Manchester. In that city he and Simon Rogan at The French rule the roost so it’ll be interesting to compare the two.

Closer to home, head chef Stephen Hardy has taken over the running of The Gourmet Spot in Durham. He’s good at what he does so it will be interesting to see what develops there. Next time I’ll be writing about eating at The Ferme de Montagne at Les Gates in France and three-star Vendome in Cologne, Germany.


New boy

Chef David Garlinge joined us at Raby Hunt last year from Ramsay’s Maze. He came just as his MasterChef The Professionals was being televised – Dave got through to the last eight on the show – but preparing lemon tart wasn’t his finest hour – so he’s had to bear much ribbing from the team. New Year’s Eve was our finest hour with a 12-course tasting menu and our first chef’s table in the champagne bar at Raby Hunt which provided a bit of theatre for guests. We tried some new dishes and the last guests left at 2.45am, which I think signals a good time had by all!

With my resolution – New York in May to eat at Eleven Madison Park.


Diary date

We’re planning a champagne tasting night on March 19/20 at Raby Hunt – mum and dad (who are also my business partners) recently visited the family-run Philipponnat champagne house and enjoyed a gourmet dinner with champagne pairings for each course – something we’re going to replicate here.

Bib Gourmand With Harriett Close

harriot12Mum and dad took me for lunch at The Ledbury restaurant in London, which he tells me has two Michelin stars. I liked it a lot and had a good seat for people watching.

Daddy says it’s great because it’s baby-friendly and relaxed but he can also taste the amazing food from chef Brett Graham’s kitchen.

Daddy raved about the quail with artichoke and pear and chestnut puree. He loved scallops with orange and pumpkin – and something called ‘variations on onions’. I didn’t try that. I like nothing better than chewing on a crust of good bread at the table – but when I get more teeth, who knows!

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