‘I will give up when my liver gives out’ — after nearly 30 years of Michelin-starred success, chef Shaun Hill isn’t ready to quit the kitchen just yet
Some people have a talent for exuding contentment. Chef Shaun Hill is one of them. It’s mid-afternoon on a Friday and he is seated in the bar area of the white-washed Walnut Tree Inn at Llanddewi Skirrid near Abergavenny, glass of red in hand. The winner of our Outstanding Contribution award has just finished service, the latest in a long line going back over 43 years. I ask him why, when so many others have packed it in, he has stayed in the kitchen and is still there at 67. He grins. “It’s better than the alternatives,” he says. “I could be out in the dining room being jolly for the punters but I couldn’t bear that.” But you must like it in there, I say nodding towards the kitchen? “I do,” he says. “They have to laugh at my jokes.”
It’s a modest summation of a remarkable career, which he claims began by mistake. He started with a training in the kitchen of Robert Carrier’s eponymous restaurant in the Islington of the late 1960s, before heading to The Gay Hussar, the legendary Labour party hangout in Soho, (“I was the only leftie in the kitchen,” he says. “The rest were Croatian Nazis.”). After that came the trio of Michelin-starred glories: the grand dining room at Gidleigh Park in Devon from 1985 to 1994; the Merchant House in Ludlow where he cooked single-handed for 11 years; and finally, since 2008, at the Walnut Tree Inn.