February 9, 2024 10:35 AM

Meet John Rudden, Our Private Chef at Oughtershaw Hall 

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There is a whole team of people inside and out of Catch the Breeze Retreats that work to make our guests’ stays memorable, to cherish for a lifetime. One of these people is John Rudden, an award-winning chef and owner of the fantastic Grassington House in the Yorkshire Dales, who doubles up as the private chef for guests at our beautiful Oughtershaw Hall. We sat down with John to learn more about his passion for food and his journey and experiences as a chef since his humble beginnings as a pot-washer in Skipton. From the nostalgic joys of salad cream sandwiches to earning Michelin stars, John tells all to give you a taste of what could await you at the magical Oughtershaw Hall if you choose to have a private dining experience while on your staycation. 

John Rudden outside Oughtershaw Hall

John’s childhood was rooted in Skipton, where he has fond memories of growing up in the 1970s, recalling a “totally different world to what we live in now”. Powered by a determination to work, John’s first job was at the Skipton markets, working from six o’clock in the morning until half eight in the morning before school, and then again from six till six during the school holidays; now that is what we call dedication! With the help of a good reference from his cooking teacher, John later applied for catering college, which eventually opened him up to the culinary world of the restaurant industry. 

From fine dining to gastropubs and an old haunt of Agatha Christies’, John’s breadth of experience has spanned across a multitude of restaurants that have all shaped his ethos when it comes to cooking. John’s successes have come a long way since being paid with a bottle of red and white after a hard day’s work experience, all made possible with his sheer determination and ambition to cook good food. So, what was the turning point that inspired John to want to have his own restaurant? 

“The place I learnt the most in my career was the Chester Grosvenor, an unbelievable Michelin star restaurant, and I was actually part of the team that got the Michelin star, which was a very proud moment in my life.” 

After working in 5* restaurants and hotels and serving up £50 main courses and £1,100 bottles of wine, the fine dining experience shaped John’s vision for the type of food he wanted to be making, and what he eventually would like his restaurant to be like; a spot for simple, well-made food. This was further reinforced by working at The Angel at Hetton, the first gastropub in the UK that had also won Guinness Pub of the Year. John explains that he became “really invested in this cooking style and this ethos of making high-end food affordable and therefore more available to people.” The business practise of offering wine by the glass was also a staple that John saw as key for encouraging a repeat customer base, something that outweighs the multiple awards he has achieved over the years. 

At just 26 years old, an opportunity arose for John at the White Hart in Saddleworth that aligned with his goals; becoming a head chef at the age of 26. John says, after “building the kitchen from floor to ceiling, I was given offers to become a partner because the business was heading in the right direction.” This led to a 14-year stint at the White Hart, where John’s passion for cooking was able to flourish, as well as the team. Servicing 120 weddings a year, John stressed that “I loved what I did. Every day there was a wedding, I made sure I was there for the wedding, and I cooked and served the wedding food, because it’s so important to me that it’s not just a name above a door; it’s John Rudden at the White Hart.” This dedicated and intimate ethos has followed to our beautiful Oughtershaw Hall, but before that, the striking Grassington House nestled in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales. 

Photo taken from Grassington House, Facebook
Photo taken from Grassington House, Facebook

At age 40, John decided that as “my legs were still good enough, my passion was still good enough, and my ambition was still good enough, that I wanted to go out and open my own place.” After searching for restaurants and pubs with his wife, they found Grassington House. Despite being twice as big as they wanted, the couple bought the 10 bedroomed hotel and restaurant that was, in John’s words, “in dire need of everything.” They took over ownership in June 2008, and after refurbing half of the rooms in six weeks, unfortunately just in time for the start of the 2008 recession. Despite looking into the eye of the financial storm, they are now in their 15th year of Grassington House, which John says has “gone in the blink of an eye”, proving to be one of many of his proudest achievements. 

When asked about the proudest moments of John’s career out of all the awards he has won, and including the success of completely refurbishing Grassington House and building its reputation to what it is known for today, John explains, “I don’t always look back on that, because I haven’t finished. When I’m finished, I’ll look back. I think the proudest moments have been: 

John notes that although the awards are amazing and a nice bit of prestige for Grassington House, the main thing that counts is customers; “customers coming back, being happy, and making repeat bookings is important to me”. With a guest of Grassington House booking over a year in advance for New Year’s Day for 2025, it is no wonder the empire John has built within the Yorkshire Dales continues to thrive based on his core values that deliver simple, good food in an intimate setting. In John’s eyes, a dish that simply could not be taken off the menu is the firm-favourite that is the rag pudding, which won John Chef of the Year. A mouth-watering Oldham delicacy inspired by the rag pudding that his wife used to cook for him, the dish consists of light, simple flavours, reflective of John’s ethos of utilising passion and experiences within the restaurant industry and quite simply, food. With guests even travelling from Saddleworth where John’s previous restaurant was so that they can continue to indulge in the rag pudding, we think that the photo speaks for itself! The simple ethos of John’s cooking is also reflected at home, with his preferred home-cooked meal being a no-fuss, honest full English, or a roast chicken dinner; comfort food at its finest. 

Rag pudding. A filet mignon steak, mini cabbage (cabbage leaves with braised cabbage inside), suet pudding rolled like a sausage roll, with 12-hour cooked beef shin served on carrot purée with a red wine confit onion jus. 

Now onto the beautiful Yorkshire Dales, which Grassington House is home to. John counts himself as “so lucky to have the surroundings where we live, the countryside and the peace and quiet”, which we, of course, wholeheartedly agree with. A fond memory that John recalls upon is walking his daughter to school across the river on a beautiful summer’s day, an experience that again, he counts himself as lucky to have when he knows people will pay a lot of money to stay and live in the Yorkshire Dales. As well as the wonderful surroundings, John explains that the people of the Yorkshire Dales are also key to it being one of his favourite parts about owning a business in this part of the country, highlighting that “everyone’s out to help each other;” the community spirit of the Yorkshire Dales that we know and love. 

Local produce is another staple of the culinary delights at Grassington House. They used to rear their own pigs, but now partner with a butcher based in Thirsk, where the meat is sourced from family farms, as well as using local game shooting to source game such as pheasants, which is flying off the shelves. Vegetables and herbs are also sourced locally from allotments, and during the season of mushrooms, Grassington House uses a local forager to source them, highlighting the seasonal nature of their delicious menu to give guests a real taste of the Yorkshire Dales. We are proud that we are able to work alongside an individual and establishment that takes such pride in not just cooking, but shaping memorable experiences for guests, a shared ethos with Catch the Breeze Retreats that makes John the perfect match for Oughtershaw Hall.  

The relationship between Catch the Breeze Retreats and John was sparked through a mutual connection between John’s number two in the kitchen and our very own Ben, who both went to school together. As Ben also likes to dine at Grassington House, this led to John coming to Oughtershaw Hall to deliver private dining experiences for guests. John was looking for smaller, more intimate venues to cook for groups, describing our Oughtershaw Hall as an “absolutely amazing, beautiful venue”. 

John has cooked for a number of different groups at Oughtershaw Hall, the most recent one being for a guest’s mum’s birthday where they cooked in the open plan kitchen to break down barriers and create a good environment for both the culinary team and the guests. John enjoys taking time to get to know the guests and maintaining a certain level of interaction when cooking, echoing his experiences at the White Hart, stressing that, “it’s so important that the client gets to know how much you care”. The food prepared at Oughtershaw Hall is similar to the dishes cooked at Grassington House, but John also uses the guests to personalise the menu, such as including a North-Eastern influence for a Geordie dinner party. 

The multitude of opportunities between John and Oughtershaw Hall do not stop at private dining; whether you are looking for an afternoon tea overlooking the beautiful valley, or perhaps a cooking masterclass at Oughtershaw Hall during your trip; John Rudden is the perfect match for your magical stay.  

John Rudden in the Oughtershaw Hall kitchen

John’s history, ethos and passion for the food he cooks, the guests he caters for, and the Yorkshire Dales makes us proud to have built and maintained our partnership for our guests to enjoy at Oughtershaw Hall. For further information on our properties and their availability all year round, contact us on 01829 830 388 or email at info@catchthebreeze.co.uk. And do not forget to tag us in any pictures you may take and use the #MyCTBR, we love seeing your fabulous pictures and all the fun you have whilst staying with us in our properties. 

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