About Time You Met: Chef Shaun RankinBy Alicia Grimshaw
It’s always nice to meet a chef where you can happily talk over a cup of coffee and sample some finger sarnies, and natter about everything from club sandwiches to growing up North. Shaun Rankin has quite the CV; a Michelin star chef behind Ormer in Mayfair, a regular on numerous TV shows, and head of the food and beverage offering of elite members club 12 Hay Hill in London.
I caught up with Shaun at this year’s Wimbledon, where he had partnered with Lavazza to create a three-course top gastronomy experience with renowned chefs Carlo Cracco and Ernst Knam. There were scones, brews aplenty and plenty of foodie chat:
Tell us about one of your first food memories:
I left home when I was 16 and went to London; I kind of knew what I wanted to do, only by my mum. My mum was a great baker – but she wasn’t a great cook. I spent my childhood on Sundays in rainy Durham making Yorkshire puddings, roast beef, Sunday lunches, apple pies, corn beef pies, scones, that kind of stuff. I got involved because of my mum, and her mum was a great cook as well, and she had an old recipe book which I still have now, and it’s scribbled down ‘a bit of this, a cup of that, throw that all in and it works.’ That’s my early memories, really. To be honest, I was brought up on fish fingers and chips.
Going to London, my apprenticeship was in The Mayfair, Ritz and Savoy – and then that started to open my eyes, it and all started from there.
You started out in high-end establishments like The Ritz and The Savoy – how was that?
London fascinated me. At that time I didn’t really recognise what hospitality was. Yes, I’m a chef and a restauranteur, but I also like hospitality. I was fascinated by grandeur; grand hotels, the service, the butler, and that sort of captivated the industry for me. I didn’t want to work in Joe’s Cafe, I wanted to work in a prestigious hotel, one of the best hotels in London. I thought that was a good training ground.
What did you take from your apprenticeship there?
To be honest, I was a 16 year old kid from Durham…
…Did you feel a little out of place?
Massively out of place. My first job was at The Mayfair Hotel, and I was in the larder section, and I was in with 15 chefs, just in one section, and 14 of them were French and they all spoke in French. And my French at that time was très petit. It was literally the French that you learnt in school, and that was kind of it. I was like, this is a big world for me, and they didn’t want to speak English – and it was only Alistair, my other chef who spoke English. It was really daunting, and I didn’t really expect what I expected. You’ve got to change: change the way you think, change the way you are, and you don’t have mum there anymore to get you out of bed, and send you off to school. It was a massive challenge.
From when you first started out – how do you think the foodie landscape has changed in London?
I left London after a three year apprenticeship, and then went back up to North Yorkshire, worked there for a while, and then came to Jersey. Then I went to Australia, Italy, Chicago to work, and then back to Jersey. So I wasn’t really in London for a great deal of time, I was doing other things, I was looking at other cultures, looking at other foods.
I stepped back into London some years ago; I always follow London as a scene and a trend, obviously, and with social media, it’s easier now to see what’s going on all the time. Before you didn’t, unless you were involved. Coming back in London it was an eye opener ‘wow, every culture is here, every philosophy of food is here.’
You’re behind Ormer Restaurant in London – how do you stay current and get people back in the restaurant time and time again?
We work on a philosophy: combination, flavours and textures. In season and based around, if possible, local ingredients, or seasonal ingredients. We look forward to Jersey royal season, asparagus season, venison, and game, but we choose our ingredients first and foremost, and then we decide what we’re going to do with it.
What ingredients do you mainly like to cook with?
Any ingredients at all, really. Are we trendy? No we’re not trendy. We’re classical, but with a twist on modern British food. I love all ingredients, and one of the dishes that I love, and it’s been on the menu for quite some time, it’s our signature dish, is the lobster ravioli with a tomato and crab bisque with a shallot salad. It won’t go off the menu, as it’s a nod to Jersey where I’ve spent most of my career, and we fly over the lobsters and prep them fresh, daily. And we make the handmade ravioli.
How did the partnership with Lavazza first come about?
I’ve worked with Lavazza for seven years now, and every restaurant or hotel I’ve opened, I’ve always put Lavazza coffee in there, as I fell in love with Lavazza. And then we went through this process; they launched this pod machine, and that for me, that takes the whole risk out of coffee, because it’s all done. You put the pod in, press the button, and out come fabulous coffee, good creamer, and all my staff have to do is look after the milk and make sure they don’t burn it. And then from there you get consistent cappuccinos and lattes.
What would be your death row meal?
I always love a club sandwich.
What’s coming up for you?
We’ve got an eye on a couple of restaurants at the moment. We’re expanding slowly, but into good areas.
What advice would you give people who are looking to forge a career in the food sector?
Do it, absolutely do it. It’s a fabulous industry; hospitality is my life, my passion, and it can give you so much. I started off as a chef, and now I consult on restaurants, I design kitchens, I design restaurants – the industry can take you wherever you want to go.
Following its success with global chef partnerships, Lavazza embarked on a programme to work more closely with the local gastronomy scene. London has arguably become one of the world’s most exciting metropolitans for eating out. Lavazza’s Top Gastronomy programme now features 64 of the UK’s very best restaurants and hotels with 9 Michelin-stars where Lavazza coffee can be enjoyed, including Ormer by Shaun Rankin.