NEW VIDEO: Robby Jenks, Executive Chef, The Vineyard

The  Staff Canteen

Robby Jenks is the executive chef at The Vineyard in Newbury.

Although he began his career aged 16 he says he didn’t really start to learn until he began at Gidleigh Park with Michael Caines. He did four and a half years with Michael in total and he worked at Whatley Manor under two Michelin starred chef Martin Burge. His first head chef position was at Amberley Castle before he joined The Vineyard in 2016.

The Staff Canteen spoke to Robby about working at The Vineyard, which chefs have influenced him the most during his career and his obsession with Michelin stars!

creme brulee low res

Ginger crème brulee, exotic fruits

What drew you to The Vineyard?

I think it was the size of the property, I wanted to try an array of roles throughout my career and I’ve done smaller hotels as a head chef so I wanted to try a bigger one with more structure. Plus, the wine here is a big sell for a chef or it was for me anyway. And the reputation of the hotel was great.

Your first head chef role was at Amberley Castle, what was it like taking that step up?

The responsibility I had at Gidleigh before Amberley got me used to running a kitchen but you’re never really quite prepared for what is going to happen! So, it was a big step and it’s strange, it’s almost like you’re back to when you first start as a chef and you don’t think you will ever be able to learn it all. It’s not as bad as you have your food knowledge but in terms of people management that was new. I’ve definitely learnt more about people management here, I wanted to come to The Vineyard and move forward with what I had learned at Ambereley.

Even though it’s a bigger place the structure of the management team here allows me to spend more time in the kitchen and focusing on the menu which is what I wanted.

Would you change your career path if you could?

The only thing which niggles in the back of my mind is whether I should have gone and spent some time cooking in London.

Info bar

Rising stars 

Sam Ashton- Booth – just opened Stem in London – he was my junior sous chef at Gidleigh when I was sous and we had an awesome time and he is one of the most organised focused young chefs I have met – think he will do well.

Hide in London

Tom Brown's new restaurant Cornerstone

Also a prediction of mine is that Casamia will get a second star this year

Mark Birchall I think is a chef that will be on of if not the leader in our industry one day in England

Guilty pleasures

My favourite food is either my mothers roast chicken on a Sunday afternoon or eating steak, chips and béarnaise sauce with Rebecca on a day off

Top 5 restaurants

 L' Enclume

El Celler de Can Roca

The French Laundry



Favourite cookbook 

Thomas Keller

Tell us about working at Gidleigh Park with Michael Caines?

When I went there I thought I knew quite a lot but I didn’t, I knew nothing! I consider Gidleigh to be when I started really. I did four and a half years and then I wanted to do something different which Micheal helped me with. Gidleigh is a tough kitchen to be in, it’s so intense! Physically and mentally it was so draining. But I loved it don’t get me wrong – there just weren’t enough hours in the day. I was close to going to The Square but in the end, I chose Whatley Manor because it offered five nights a week, in the country and somewhere I could focus in an environment that was a different level of intensity; it offered me areas I had spent less time on at Gidleigh.

2 Wine vault low res
The Wine Vault at The Vineyard

You’ve worked for some amazing chefs who has had the biggest influence on your career?

Michael, he was so inspirational and he is still so passionate about everything that he does. Martin (Burge) was great but for very different reasons and that’s why I went to Whatley Manor. He had all the things I needed at that particular time. His food was very technical but looked simple on the plate which is what I wanted to learn.

Do you struggle to attract chefs to your team?

We have about 20 chefs here. One of the biggest things I’ve learnt here is how to look after and manage people because if you don’t they won’t work for you. One of my biggest focuses is the people who work for me - their education, how I mentor them and the food. All of those together should make a good marriage so we have a good team and keep the staff we do get. So when we do attract people, which is difficult, hopefully they want to stay. We want to keep them interested and keep them moving on to different sections. 

Talk to us about your food style and finding your niche after working for Michael and Martin.

Looking back at Amberley I think I had some bad habits of knowing dishes which worked from my previous experiences and just putting them on the menu. It was so busy and there were only five of us in that kitchen, so you can find yourself relying on the past and the classics. I like the classics and the guests loved it but you don’t feel that you have 100 per cent created it.

salmon low res
Loch Duart Salmon, wasabi, cucumber and dill

You’ll always take things you have learned with you, otherwise what’s the point in learning them? I think my own style really came in to its own here at The Vineyard.

We do all the development before the dish hits the menu rather than working on it while it’s on the menu which is what I did before. The food is always evolving here and I think the day it stops is the day I’ll take a step back. I don’t want the dishes to become a process rather than a passion.

Tell us about some of the dishes?

We do tasting and al a carte here and the dishes I’m cooking in the video, I’ve chosen one new dish and then the salmon which we’ve had on since the beginning. The salmon is a classic example of what we’ve done in terms of moving the food forward so it’s something we are quite proud of. It’s a very simple dish but it has changed along the way.

You offer both but when you eat out would you choose a tasting menu?

It’s a weird one in the industry this, it’s almost like a war between al a carte and tasting menus! I love tasting menus but it depends on the occasion as to whether I’d choose it or not. As a chef if someone offered me the option of just cooking a tasting menu then I can honestly say life would become easier. It creates consistency, but our guests here who come regularly don’t want to be eating the same tasting menu every week and we are all about the guests and their experience.

What are your thoughts on accolades?

Michelin is a big thing for me, it used to be a bit of an obsession but not so much now – I think you’ve just got to enjoy what you do. I started wanting to get a Michelin star from about 20 once I knew what one was! I always from 16 wanted to be successful but then when I moved into the world of Michelin when I started working for Michael I wanted to get to his level myself. I used to think what dishes would Michelin like but now I realise you have to think what would the guests like. No one really knows what Michelin want! If I’m happy with a dish that’s good enough.

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Robby Jenks

Where do you see yourself in the next five years?

I’ll be here! The end goal would be to have my own restaurant alongside my partner who works in the industry as well, but that is the future once everything else is ticked really. I want to build and develop the team here, learn all my management skills and hopefully get a star.

A topic of interest with chefs at the minute is no-shows, does that effect you and what are your thoughts on how to tackle the problem?

It is a big thing at the minute and I see it discussed a lot on Twitter. It’s hard for me to talk about it because we are such a big hotel and we have so many people and guests come through the door that we don’t need a table of two to turn up for lunch. Of course, we always want the guests but it’s not going to cause us massive issues whereas I think people with smaller margins it would be really frustrating. Saying that we’ve had it where a six hasn’t turned up for lunch before and it is annoying – you work all morning to cook for these people and they just don’t bother showing up. It’s more a frustration than a financial issue for us.

How do we solve it? If I had a restaurant I’d want it to be ticketed – if you want to go to the theatre or the cinema you have to buy a ticket, why not buy a ticket to go to a restaurant? If they then don’t want to turn up then it’s up to them – if you don’t turn up for a flight you don’t get refunded why should it be any different?

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 13th July 2018

NEW VIDEO: Robby Jenks, Executive Chef, The Vineyard