The departing owner of the highly-acclaimed restaurant the Raby Hunt has admitted to having 'ups and downs' - which saw him working in a Darlington shop before making it big in the culinary world. 

James Close, who will step down as the chef and patron of the two Michelin-starred venue in Summerhouse, near Darlington, after its last service on Saturday (January 27), has opened up about his 'stepping stones' to success on his quest to become a top chef. 

After 15 years at the Raby Hunt, Mr Close announced earlier this month that he would be stepping away from the venue, which has been consistently mentioned in the Good Food Guide, to start a new challenge at Rockliffe Hall in Darlington. 

Darlington and Stockton Times: James Close at the Raby HuntJames Close at the Raby Hunt (Image: NORTHERN ECHO)

While admitting that it will be an "emotional experience" to depart the Raby Hunt's "charm" - he has expressed his excitement at moving forward with the five-star resort of Rockliffe Hall, which he'll join at the start of February. 

Some other members of his team will also join him at Rockliffe Hall, including the Raby Hunt manager, head chef, and several other front-of-house and chef members. 

Despite wowing diners from across the globe with his innovative ideas and the complete experience that the Raby Hunt offers, including 'putting Summerhouse on the map', he has mentioned his ups and downs of getting to this level. 

Darlington and Stockton Times: James Close and his staff outside the Raby HuntJames Close and his staff outside the Raby Hunt (Image: RABY HUNT)

Within the ups and downs, the critically acclaimed chef surprisingly mentioned that he started out at Binns Department Store on High Row in Darlington before building up the Raby Hunt to become the only venue in the North East with two Michelin stars. 

"My career has had plenty of bumps in the road and unbelievable good times. I remember working in Binns in Darlington the men's department and never believing that things would happen for me," said Mr Close during a sit down with The Northern Echo.

"I then tried to take up golf and make it, but it wasn't working, so I moved on to the chef world - and I now know anything else. 

Darlington and Stockton Times: James Close next to the two Michelin star sign at the Raby HuntJames Close next to the two Michelin star sign at the Raby Hunt (Image: NORTHERN ECHO)

"While I could have stayed at the Raby Hunt - I wanted to go out on top and I still have this drive to move things forward elsewhere - hence the challenge at Rockliffe." 

Alongside highlighting his ups and downs, Mr Close spoke about the 'constant' work required to run a two-Michelin-star restaurant.

Mr Close added: "It's been relentless - you might get a day off or week off here - but you'll have to still deal with the day-to-day of the venue." 

Since announcing that he was closing the Raby Hunt and revealing the last service as Saturday (January 27), Mr Close admits that he has reservations that could have filled "nearly the remainder of 2024," he always wanted to control when he left the venue. 

"I always wanted to go out on top, and after two Michelin stars, I want to explore different avenues - and I believe Rockliffe will allow me to do this," added Mr Close.

"This is a special place, and you can tell how much it means to people - we've had people crying in the restaurant over the last few weeks since announcing our closure - it's that bond with diners that made Raby Hunt so strong."