From Sheffield College to Masterchef, and now running his very own restaurant, it seems Reece Elliott is one to watch
Having started as a chef in an apprenticeship with Sheffield College when he was 16, it’s immediately clear from chatting to up-and-coming chef Reece Elliott that his love for cooking is deeply ingrained. But where did it all start? “Ever since I started to do it in school, I just loved cooking,” he says simply.
“I love cooking humble ingredients, making them taste good and then making people smile. The more I realised that I could express my emotions through food and get other people involved, the more my passion grew. I just wanted to get better every single day.”
And got better he certainly has, with appearances on Junior Masterchef, where he won second place, Masterchef the Professionals and positions in highly renowned restaurants. Fast forward to today, and Elliott is reaping the rewards of his new restaurant Raffina in the heart of Sheffield, with five-star reviews coming in thick and fast.
Despite such huge success and climbing the ranks to being an acclaimed chef in his own right, Elliott still credits his humble beginnings and family for his real love for cooking. “My mum’s a really good cook and I used to be in the kitchen with her and work side by side with her – I loved every minute of it,” he smiles. “I knew from a young age that I wanted to be great at cooking and that I wanted to commit a lot of time to it.”
I wonder what it is about the process of creating food and being a professional chef that Elliott loves so much. “There’s always something new, it’s not a boring job and times have changed, it’s not lors of hours anymore,” he says.
“You can have a work life balance, and love what you’re doing. I like being artistic on a plate and I appreciated nature so much, so I like to see what you can do to accentuate the taste, flavours, and look of natural food. The more you learn, the more passionate you become.”
Elliott credits his time on Masterchef as a huge boost to his career. “It was a bit overwhelming and crazy, but super exciting. It taught me a lot, to be honest. You question yourself throughout your career, so to be judged by chefs of such calibre is a great learning tool – I was eager to see how I would come across in front of their eyes. I’d recommend any young chef to do it, the worst that can happen is that you go out, but you learn lots.”
Masterchef was massive for Elliott, with his Instagram and profile growing hugely and lots of job opportunities coming through because of it. “It’s a really good talking point and people watch it more than you realise,” he says. “It’s about who you know, where you’ve been and building your reputation up. Competitions are a brilliant thing to do as an upcoming chef, as there’s no loss.”
Raffina by Reece Elliott, which is his own debut restaurant that recently opened, is exactly one of those opportunities that came about. Having met celebrity chef Joe Hurd when he worked at Oxdine, Elliott kept in touch with him while at The Cavendish and built a strong relationship with him. A few years later and Hurd put Elliott’s name forward to the owner of the Raffina building as a perfect chef to take on the job.
For Elliott, it’s particularly special to be able to showcase the talent and shine a spotlight on the food scene in Yorkshire. Opening a restaurant in his home city was a perfect way for him to be able to do it. “I’m really grateful of the opportunity. I’m super excited and it’s a dream job to me to be able to have my own restaurant,” he says.
So, what can people expect from Raffina? With an Italian theme with a fine dining twist, the restaurant has already gone down a storm. “It’s Italian inspired so I’ll take classic and modern techniques on Italian dishes, with Yorkshire produce and a Sheffield twist,” says Elliott. “It’s fine dining, but it’s not uptight and it’s really relaxed with a fun atmosphere. It’s about simplicity and focusing on cooking things right rather than overcomplicating it.”
Elliott tells me how proud he is to add to the burgeoning foodie offering in Sheffield and loves to support local suppliers and businesses, too. “Most of the stuff in the restaurant comes from just down the road,” he says. “The food scene here is changing all the time, it’s exciting and I can’t wait to keep working on it this year!”