The first chef in the North East to attract two Michelin stars, Close will open a new, as-yet unnamed, signature restaurant at the Darlington country house hotel as well as oversee and develop the five-star property's overall culinary direction.
Close’s new restaurant will continue his current global approach to gastronomy, but a new bespoke space will allow interaction with the chefs, who will take diners on a journey inspired by the best cuisine from around the world.
The fully self-trained chef will be joined by his wife Maria, who will head up development, and his head chef Adam Molloy. The new restaurant is targeted to open later in 2024.
Close will join the hotel in February, which will allow him time to get to know the current culinary offerings, before identifying opportunities to ‘strengthen the resort dining experiences through adding his passion and personality’.
“To join Rockliffe Hall as culinary director is an incredible opportunity and the perfect progression to take everything we have developed and achieved at the Raby Hunt to the next level," Close says. "I’m always striving to do better and I’m looking forward to being part of an ambitious team that wants to lead the way in the culinary hotel space and modernise what a luxury country hotel offers its guests across gastronomy, service, and experiences."
“I’m very thankful to all the people who have believed in us and been involved in our journey so far – repeat diners, guests travelling from further afield, chefs, suppliers, and Michelin, which has played a big part in my career – and we look forward to our continued relationship with all of them.”
Shauna Robb, general manager, Rockliffe Hall, added: “We are delighted to welcome James to Rockliffe Hall. James’ appointment as Culinary Director marks the beginning of an exciting new phase in Rockliffe Hall’s journey and will support us in our ambition to become a world-class luxury destination, offering the best in 5-star experiences to all our guests.”
The Raby Hunt’s last service will be 27 January. Close has created ‘The Final Menu’ for the remaining services, which will include favourite dishes from over the years.
The Raby Hunt Restaurant with rooms, which is owned by Close’s parents and has traded for 14 years with Close at the helm, will be put up for sale with property agent Christie & Co.