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Neil Rankin was a rebel long before he was a chef. He was always rebellious. I only know this because I lived with him at university and we’ve remained good mates ever since.

I knew when I met him that he was a special blend of fun and trouble. He wasn’t a rebel because he swore a lot, took drugs and loved going out: you’d expect little else of a student who’d escaped his home in Edinburgh to come and party in late-1990s Manchester.

No, Neil was a rebel because even when he’s had to face up to almost impossible odds – be it a fight he knew he couldn’t win or life deciding that a given day seemed a good time to be cruel to Neil – he never stopped believing in himself.

Neil Rankin is nothing if not self-aware and he doesn’t do airs and graces. Or as he’d probably say in his growly Edinburgh drawl, he doesn’t pretend to be ‘a posh twat’. Moreover, he stands his ground, fights and argues tirelessly for what he sees as right and fair and will call out cowardice or wrong no matter what might happen to him as a result. I’ve seen it many times.

Anyone who follows him on social media has seen it:

Anyone he’s hired to work with him has seen it:

And, as a guy who’s more interested in cooking delicious meals for diners than he is in winning a Michelin Star, his customers have seen it. Or rather, they’ve tasted it.

Because the other thing about Neil is that he doesn’t really care for rules.

Already a successful chef before he opened his first Temper restaurant, he still had a job to do to convince his investors that a huge central firepit in a Soho venue on which to barbecue meat and serve with tacos and mezcals was a good idea.

By the time he opened his Temper ‘Two’ in London’s financial district his investors had seen the success of the first restaurant and were more ready to listen to Neil’s dream of mixing barbecue with curry.

Now, with two successful London restaurants under his belt and a third on the way (barbecue and pizza – of course – in Covent Garden), you’d be forgiven for thinking Neil Rankin has been at the food game his whole life. But in fact, he only really came to cooking in his thirties with some failed businesses and one failed marriage behind him.

Now he’s the talk of the London food scene – Temper in Soho was recently named Best Newcomer in the Observer Food Monthly awards and every critic from Grace Dent through Jay Rayner to Giles Coren has given rave reviews.

But Neil still talks and acts like he did when we were teenagers. He competes in Scotch Egg competitions for fun and will give up a night being a celebrity if there’s a Domino’s pizza on offer (if, that is, the Domino’s franchisee can replace the standard tomato sauce with the brand’s “far superior” sun-dried tomato sauce).

RebelTalk #1: It’s radical food for thought!  

Mark Choueke is host of RebelTalk and co-founder of Rebeltech


RebelTalk is hosted by Mark Choueke, co-hosted by Nicole Lyons and produced by Meg Wright.
Episodes are recorded and engineered by Hard Six Audio.
Special thanks to Dillan Gandhi Media and Spiritland Studio.

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