Born in Belfast and brought up in London’s Primrose Hill, Shaun Hill studied Classics at Exeter University before embarking on the world of work. A period ‘between jobs’, as he euphemistically phrases it, spurred him to enter the kitchen. He thought it would be nice to eat well and learn to cook at the same time, but soon found the realities of cooking professionally, at the bottom of the kitchen hierarchy, a little different. His first position was as commis chef at ‘the local poncy eaterie’, The Cherry Tree in Southgate, London. He told Andy Hayler: ‘The food was really the daft sub-classical repetoire of the time: steak Diane, sole Veronique, duck a thousand fruity ways etc. But I learned how a kitchen operates, how to cut up carcasses and make stocks and sauces, all of which were amazingly done in the traditional and time-consuming manner.’
Next came a position with Robert Carrier, a prominent food writer at the time, at his eponymous restaurant. Serving rustic (though expensive) Mediterranean food – still something of a novelty in 1960s London – Shaun Hill says of his time there: ‘I loved it there and the lessons learnt have stayed with me.’ He went on to a spell at The Gay Hussar, the legendary politicians’ hangout in Soho and self-declared ‘only Hungarian restaurant in England’ before moving on to work at some of London’s most prestigious restaurants, including The Capital Hotel in Knightsbridge (under Brian Turner) and Blakes in South Kensington.