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A Chef’s Tale – Robby Jenks, Executive Chef at the Vineyard

When and why did you start cooking?

My interest in cooking began when I worked as a kitchen porter for a hotel in my home town of Tiverton, Devon. I spent a lot of hours in the kitchen and I got a real buzz from the fast paced environment, so when the opportunity came up I jumped at the chance to train as a chef.

Where have you worked previously?

After four years of hard graft I progressed to Chef de Partie and then my career really started when I moved to Gidleigh Park to work under the legendary Michael Caines.  It was my first position in a Michelin starred restaurant and it is here that I began my journey.  I created a very good relationship with Michael and worked to deliver excellence in food preparation and service by continually supporting the kitchen team, whist maintaining agreed standards of service and product delivery installed by Michael.  I was at Gidleigh for three years and left as Junior Sous Chef. 

My next move was to Whatley Manor as Chef de Partie where I worked with the inspiring two Michelin star chef Martin Burge.  Here I took on a small team and we delivered precise dishes for the fine dining restaurant ‘The Dining Room’ and the brasserie, ‘Le Mazot’.

After a year in 2011 I headed back to Gidleigh as Senior Sous.  We exceeded guest’s expectations and I supported Michael in creating a fabulous team environment where it was a pleasure to work.

In 2013 I earned my first Head Chef Position at Amberley Castle’s 3 AA rosette restaurant where I worked for three years using my creative flair to design new and exciting dishes as well as delivering masterclasses and external promotional events.

In February 2016 I was given the opportunity to take the helm of the kitchen at The Vineyard and I haven’t looked back.

What is your cooking philosophy?

I’m passionate about great food.  My style is classical cooking with modern techniques, using the best possible ingredients and my approach is to create a simple but perfect dining experience, taking local and sustainable seasonal produce to deliver the best plate possible.

What trends do you see emerging in the industry now?

Chefs are going back to basics – using simpler (and in some cases cheaper) cuts and still creating great dishes.   Casual dining has reached its peak and whilst there are some fantastic gastro pubs around real foodies appreciate all of the hard work, passion and dedication that goes into creating something unique.

What was the proudest moment of your career?

As well as getting my job here at The Vineyard my finest moment was achieving 3 AA rosettes at Amberley Castle.

Who is the coolest chef you have worked with?

I don’t know about the coolest but the best was Michael Caines!

What advice would you give young chefs and why?

Work hard and make sure you join the right team in the right establishment.  Hard work and dedication will pay off and by starting in a recognised restaurant it will build strong foundations to take you forward.

If you could go anywhere for culinary travel, where would it be?

Spain – specifically to El Celler de Can Roca. They achieved “Best Restaurant Award" from the Diners Club World's 50 Best Restaurants Academy 2015 so I feel that it would be an inspirational place to go.

What are your favourite flavour combinations?

Pea, mint and balsamic!  The flavours work perfectly together – light, refreshing and seasonal.

What are your favourite cookbooks/magazines?

The Caterer and 11 Madison Square - The Cookbook by Daniel Humm.

Where do you like to go out to eat?

I like to go somewhere new – usually restaurants that have just been awarded their first Michelin star.  Last year these included Jason Atherton's City Social, Simon Rogan's Fera at Claridge's and Outlaw’s Fish Kitchen.

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