When Shaun Rankin was approached by the owners of Grantley Hall to sort out its food and beverage offering it couldn’t have come at a better time.
Rankin’s marriage had recently broken down and he had ‘a difference of opinion’ with the owners of his Jersey restaurant Ormer.
“It was a difficult time for me both personally and professionally,” admits Yorkshireman Rankin, 46, who has two sons aged 11 and seven, who will continue to live on Jersey with their mother.
For the last 18 months he has been advising on the direction in which the four restaurants planned for Grantley Hall, which is due to open later this year after a £70 million renovation by owner Valeria Sykes, should go.
It’s a project that appealed to Rankin, described by those in the know as a ‘culinary mastermind’, although he had not necessarily intended to stick around once the hotel opened.
“I didn’t want to be in charge of food and beverage up here full-time,” says Rankin who still runs his restaurant Ormer in London’s Mayfair.
“But then they asked if I’d be interested in putting my name to the fine dining restaurant which appealed to me far more.”
Shaun Rankin at Grantley Hall will be an elegant 38-cover restaurant showcasing what Rankin does best – local produce cooked in season with his unique signature twist. At his request, and to support his vision for locally-sourced sustainable produce, the hotel is developing its own kitchen garden complete with beehives and fruit trees. “My vision is eventually to only use produce from within a 20-mile radius of Grantley Hall,” he says. A bold ambition but one he seems determined to achieve.
Set in one of the original public rooms in the Grade II* listed hall, brimming with beautiful features including ornate cornice work and sash windows with views over the formal gardens, the restaurant will feature bespoke handmade furniture and specially-designed crockery and glassware.
A highlight will be the Chef’s Table, located in the heart of the engine room for up to six guests to enjoy. Foodies will be able to immerse themselves in the experience by helping to cook for their table. Signature dishes will include Yorkshire rhubarb crumble soufflé with rosehip and iced clotted cream.
When we meet for a hard hat tour of what will become a luxury hotel and wellbeing retreat, Rankin is in the process of finding somewhere to rent near Grantley Hall but also close to the airport so that he can get to Jersey as often as possible and spend a few days a week back in London.
“Although 90 per cent of my week will be in Yorkshire now, I will still be going to Jersey regularly to see my sons. I discipline myself so that when I’m with my children I am fully with them. I Skype or Facetime them two or three times a day.”
Rankin was born in Richmond, in North Yorkshire, but grew up in County Durham and knew from a young age that he wanted to be a chef. This decision was in part inspired by his experience helping his mother out as a boy, and a number of her cherished recipes were included in his first recipe book, Shaun Rankin’s Seasoned Islands. “Mum got me cooking,” he recalls. “She was a great baker. At school I didn’t really know which route to take but I did cooking with mum and so thought ‘why not give catering a go?’”
He attended catering college before moving to London to gain practical experience, aged just 15, including a stint at the five-star May Fair Hotel. “It was a real eye-opener for a Yorkshire lad,” he says. “But it filled me with a real sense of excitement. I knew it was a world that I wanted to be part of. It gave me ambition to want to get better, to be able to cook like that.”
He moved back to Yorkshire in 1992 to take on the role of chef de partie at the Black Bull Inn, in Moulton. “I had no plan, I just got fed up of London. We kept getting burgled and it started to become quite scary as we could only afford to live in the not so great parts of London.”
At the time the Black Bull had a good reputation. Since 1963 the tiny village pub had been owned by Audrey and George Pagendam where they started what represented a food revolution in the North. Audrey Pagendam was fond of saying that she brought the avocado north of the Watford Gap when most places were serving chicken in a basket, and for 38 years they were consistently rated highly enough to feature in the Good Food Guide – often the North’s sole representative.
Before long Rankin’s ambition was taking him further afield, gaining experience all over the world including at Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago and Fraser’s in Western Australia.
He moved in 1994 to work at Longueville Manor, Jersey’s most prestigious five-star hotel. After eight years at Longueville – and the hotel’s sister restaurant, Sumas – he was asked to head up the opening of Bohemia in St Helier, Jersey’s capital.
Having fallen in love with the island’s way of life and unparalleled produce, Rankin thrived and the restaurant was awarded a Michelin star in 2005.
“My plan had always been to have my Michelin star. Jersey taught me the true value of great ingredients and quality produce all of which was on our doorstep. Being able to cook with that quality of fresh ingredients everyday was incredible.”
He opened his own restaurant, Ormer, in 2013. The restaurant, named after a seafood delicacy native to the Channel Islands, more than lived up to expectations and was awarded a Michelin star within four months of opening. Then came Ormer Mayfair three years ago.
His first foray into television came when he took part in the Great British Menu in 2009, going through to the final with his treacle tart with raspberry ripple clotted cream ice cream, which he cooked at the final banquet.
The following year he made his own TV programme – Shaun Rankin’s Island Feast - which paid tribute to his adoptive home and its producers that he dealt with on a daily basis.
He is also a regular guest on Masterchef, and although he wouldn’t say ‘no’ to more television, he has other things on his mind at the moment.
It is clear that leaving Jersey has been a wrench for Rankin. “It was my home for 14 years,” he says. “I was a big fish in a little pond. Everyone is waiting for you to fail.”
And so when the call came from Grantley Hall and they explained their vision, Rankin didn’t take much convincing.
“I was looking for another project and it was an opportunity to come in at the beginning of something very exciting.
“They have a clear vision of what they want to create here, but they are happy for me to take the lead when it comes to food and beverage – even down to the appliances in the kitchens.”
Although Grantley Hall was still pretty much a building site when I visited (it is due to open this summer), Rankin’s enthusiasm is infectious as he talks me through the vision for the entire hotel and especially for his own restaurant.
“It is much more me than being in charge of Food and Beverage. I am a creative person at the end of the day and I believe we can create something amazing here.”