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My life in hospitality – Shaun Hill

10 April 2008

Highs…

In my early career, I'd have to say that one of the biggest highs was getting to work with Robert Carrier, who was immensely charming and a great figure in his day. A lot of what you learn as a chef early on isn't actually about how the food tastes, it's the mechanics of cooking and learning how to perform in a kitchen. But Robert reminded me of the sheer pleasure of food and he was an enormous inspiration.

I don't think I've ever really had a career strategy - it's always been enough to know that a job or business has run its course - but one of the most rewarding periods I've had was at the Merchant House in Ludlow. We were a small team, just three of us, and after Gidleigh Park it was a chance to reach out to a different audience.

I only gave it up because it was time for a change and it's important you know that before everyone else does. Now the Walnut Tree's turned up, and so far, since we opened last December, we've been very busy. And the reviews have been nice. I never work to a guidebook, but I'm always grateful if someone thinks we're good. We're quite remote here so we don't get coachloads of reviewers, but the FT, The Independent and The Guardian all liked it, and that will do for me.

Lows…

When I decided to leave London, partly because I didn't want to bring up my kids there, I went to work at the Lygon Arms in Broadway. Funnily enough, it was the only time that everybody thought I was doing the smart career thing, but it wasn't my cup of tea at all. The hotel was largely for American tourists, who all expected English food to be terrible anyway, and I just never felt in tune with the place.

After giving in my notice, I decided to buy a restaurant in Stratford, but I didn't really have any money, and in two years I'd made every financial mistake in the book. Eventually I managed to sell it at a loss, and off I went, nursing my debts, to Gidleigh Park, where I stayed for nine years.

Age 61

Lives Worcester.

Status Married, three children, five grandchildren

Drives A Saab - it's some sort of sport model. I bought it because it feels safe and goes fast

Career highlights Nine years as head chef at Gidleigh Park, setting up the Merchant House in Ludlow, which won a Michelin star, and last year, taking over the Walnut Tree, near Abergavenny in Wales

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Jacobs Media Group is honoured to be the recipient of the 2020 Queen's Award for Enterprise.

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