Head chef Robby's aiming for success on a plate at Vineyard

Young star causing a stir in the kitchen

Head chef Robby's aiming for success on a plate at Vineyard

The Interview:
of The Vineyard,

talks to Newbury Business Today’s SARAH BOSLEY

IF this was The Great British Bake Off there would be a whole host of puns to emphasise the meteoric rise of The Vineyard’s young chef.

Robby Jenks joined the Stockcross hotel in February this year and has been aiming high from the very beginning – setting his sights on a coveted Michelin star.

He was recently shortlisted for the Catey Head Chef of the Year award and Berkshire Life’s Best Chef Award.

This comes hot on the heels of winning a prestigious Acorn Award in June, which
recognises the brightest prospects in the hospitality industry.

Previous recipients of the award have included Jason Atherton, Marcus Wareing and John Campbell, former head chef at the Vineyard who gained two Michelin stars during his tenure.

Robby, who was born in Devon, left school at 16 and got a job in a local hotel, where he studied for an NVQ Level 2.

He spent three-and-a-half years there before moving to Exeter to work at a restaurant with three AA Rosettes.

“As soon as I started there, I noticed there were jobs going at Gidleigh Park,” Robby explains. “I applied but I didn’t hear back. Then about a year later I got an email from the head chef [Michael Caines], asking me to come in for an interview.

“That was the most daunting day of my life, but at the end of the night he offered me a job as a commis-chef.

“Everyone at work was really happy for me, so I went to work at Gidleigh Park a month later.”

That was in 2007 and a 21-year-old Robby found it a very “scary” time.

“The first six months was hell, and then, after that, the next year was really hard,” Robby says. “Michael [Caines] was very hard on me and a lot of people would probably have said it was the worst year of their lives; I didn’t see daylight for six months.

“I worked my way up to junior sous and then I decided it was time for me to move on.”

So Robby moved to Whatley Manor, under two Michelin- starred chef Martin Burge, as chef de partie – choosing it over job offers from The Square and Hibiscus in London.

“It was really intense at Gidleigh Park, but at Whatley Manor they only did dinner so it was easier to manage,” explains Robby. “There was more time to focus on the food.

“I loved the team, the hotel and the ethos there.”

After just a year, however, Robby got a call from Michael Caines, who offered him the job of senior sous chef back at Gidleigh Park.

“It wasn’t perfect timing for me, but these things don’t always happen when you want them to,” says Robby.

“It was a hard decision but I liked the future prospects at Gidleigh Park and wanted to work as a senior sous.

“I knew the company had bought some good properties that they would eventually want some head chefs in.”

So he returned to Gidleigh Park for two more years until, in 2013 at the age of just 27, he was offered the job of head chef at another one of the group’s properties – Amberley Castle.

“I was on a mission there as it was my first big job,” he says. “In the first year, and at our first attempt, we got three AA Rosettes.

“It was very hard, but I think we did well. When I left we were full every lunch and dinner.

“I don’t think I realised how much I learnt there until I left.”

Three years later and Robby felt it was time to move on. It was then that he first met Andrew McKenzie, of The Vineyard Group, and went through what he describes as “a very hard process” to become head chef at The

“Andrew was looking for a certain person and I was lucky that was me,” he says. “I met him about 10 times and we talked about the future. What he wants is what I want.

“So far this year it is going well and if we keep achieving things, then that is great.”

Robby has been at the hotel for eight months now and has been enjoying every moment.

“I love it here,” he enthuses. “I have more time to be creative and do what I want to do.

“We changed the menu and took it back to a more traditional à la carte format.

“The food is classical with modern techniques. We try to keep things simple; if it is on the plate then it is there to be eaten.”

In recent years the hotel, which has 30,000 bottles of wine in its cellar and offers more than 100 wines by the glass, has seen an increase in the number of locals visiting for lunch and dinner.

“What people think The Vineyard is and what it actually is are very different,” adds Robby.

“We want people to come in and just relax and enjoy it.”

There is no time for Robby to relax though.

With his sights set firmly on securing a Michelin star, the hard work is just beginning.

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