Giovanna Grossi gives The Staff Canteen a personal insight into her AA journey

The Staff Canteen

To say she is a busy woman is an understatement, particularly at this time of year when the world of hospitality is preening itself ready for the announcement of the annual AA Restaurant Guide. But, we managed to pin her down!

The Staff Canteen spoke to the AA’s Chief Advisor on Awards and Quality Standards, Giovanna Grossi,  about how the AA is almost unrecognisable from when she joined in 1999, her love for the hospitality industry and her restaurants and chefs to watch.

Please give us a few chefs/restaurants you think are ones to watch.

That’s tough to single people and places out; there’s so many talented people and amazing new openings. I’ve just mentioned a few places below but they are only some of many that will be ones to watch.. There’s a few I’d love to shout about as I know they are amazing and they are amongst the great chefs of the future, however as they are about to pick up awards from the AA, so I will refrain from mentioning them here and giving too much away!

Clare Smyth’s Core

I’m a massive fan of Clare’s food and am excited to be going there very soon.

Claude Bosi’s Bibendum

I’ve been fortunate to eat there twice and I love it.

Simon Rogan

I am waiting in anticipation for Simon Rogan’s new openings as I love Simon’s ethos on food and I know the new places will be amazing.

Mark Birchall

I’m very excited to be going to Mark Birchall’s Moor Hall next month, which is literally down the road from my parents’ home.

The Marram Grass and Wreckfish

Equally I am a great supporter of young new talent and am a lover of relaxed, more rustic cooking. I am desperate to go and visit Ellis and Liam Barrie up at The Marram Grass and I have my first visit to Gary Usher’s Wreckfish in Liverpool pencilled in.

The Black Swan at Oldstead

I am very much overdue a trip up to the North East and to Scotland. My last trip up in that direction was probably 18 months ago when I visited Tommy Bank’s Black Swan at Oldstead, which was fab and the family involvement reminds me of my own family upbringing when we were all involved in the business. There’s so much happening in Scotland and I hear great things from the AA team who work up there.

Nathan Outlaw and Paul Ainsworth

This summer I had two trips down to Cornwall. I am a massive fan of Nathan Outlaw and on my last trip I was fortunate enough to eat at both of Paul Ainsworth’s restaurants in Padstow; such a treat.

The Coach and The Latymer

I think my two most frequented restaurants on a personal front in the last 12 months have been The Coach in Marlow.. I am a big fan of the informality and the small plates of delicious food and the other in contrast is Matt Worswick at The Latymer at Pennyhill Park. I just love the exciting food and great service there and the bold refurbishment reflects some of Matt’s colourful character for sure.

Gidleigh Park

One place on the top of my list to visit ASAP is Michael Wignall at Gidleigh Park. I’ve followed Michael’s career back from early days in the job when he was at Michael’s Nook. I believe he is one of the most talented chefs we have in this country and I have heard amazing things about his cooking down in Devon. I am ashamed to say I haven’t been yet but it is firmly on my radar to visit very soon.

“The AA in many respects is unrecognisable from the business I joined in August 1999,” says Giovanna. “When I arrived back then the AA was still a mutual. Profit was not a word that really featured and we were not really part of the commercial world we operate in today where we have a responsibility to shareholders and stakeholders. It is a credit to the team how they have managed this transition without the customer being affected.

“I guess more pertinent to the Hotel Services division of the AA is the development of technology and the digital explosion. To put things into context, in my first week in the job, I was inspecting a hotel that had TV’s in the bedrooms without remote controls! The impact of User Generated Reviews on the Star Rating Schemes has obviously had repercussions. I honestly believe though that there will always be a demand for constructive advice and objective feedback from professional, respected, knowledgeable people.”

Giovanna Grossi and Simon Rogan
Giovanna Grossi and Simon Rogan

For those who don’t know her back ground Giovanna’s first experience in hospitality came aged 7 when her parents opened their first restaurant in Southport, followed by a second a few years later.

“By the time I was 13 I was learning everything from office functions such as book keeping, marketing, recruitment and payroll to all things operational front and back of house,” she explained. “I was obsessed and totally passionate about the industry.”

She added: “I spent many weekends rushing home to help out in the restaurants and as soon as I graduated, I started working in the business full time.”

giovanna quote

Alongside her role in the business, she would write for local papers and magazines about food and wine. In 1999 she decided she wanted to do something a little different with her career and answered an advert for a Hotel and Restaurant Inspector with the AA.

She said: “To be honest, I never thought I’d ever get the job in a month of Sundays and to be fair, I hadn’t done my research and I hadn’t got a clue what the job entailed. It sounded interesting and I thought I would be able to use my skills for writing alongside my passion for food.”

Her application was successful and the first area she was assigned to was Merseyside, Lancashire, Greater Manchester and Flintshire.

“I was basically inspecting hotels, B&B’s and restaurants Monday through to Thursday and then I’d come back home and work in our restaurant from Thursday night through to Sunday night, slotting in my planning and reservations and finishing off reports in my afternoon splits. Looking back, I’m not sure how I did that for four years. I could never do it now; it would kill me!”

Over the next 18 years Giovanna covered a number of locations in the UK including the Lake District, Cambridgeshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire and London. In 2006 she became Area Manager for London and the South East and says: “I didn’t actually throw my hat into the ring and then on the final day before applications closed, my then manager, Simon Numphud, and a couple of colleagues happened to say to me they were surprised that I wasn’t applying for the role having had the experience of working in London for three years.

"It was really agonising as I was just starting to love and learn so much in my new role. Simon was an inspiration, just as Gillian (Scott) had been to me and I was enjoying the challenge working for him. Did I really want to take on the headache of managing a team that from the outside seemed to include a couple of challenging people and to start spending most weeks travelling not only all the way from Manchester to London but also beyond to Kent, Sussex and Surrey.

“My late partner Mario always supported me and my career decisions throughout the 20 years we were together. He rarely interfered or swayed my decisions but I remember he sat me down and told me what an amazing opportunity this was for me and so, apprehensively I applied for the role.”

She added: “I loved that job and contrary to my concerns, I had the most amazing, loyal, hardworking team I could ever have wished for.”

She became Group Area Manager 18 months later but sadly six years into that role she lost her ‘amazing partner and soul mate of 20 years’. She admits this was a dark time for her and in 2016 after months of deliberating she submitted her notice.

AA Hospitality awards 2016“The reaction to my departure could not have surprised me more if I’m honest; the outpouring from all corners of the industry was just amazing. I remember my parents, who had been so nervous about me leaving, reading some of the comments on social media and saying to me that they couldn’t have been prouder of me.”

There are not many people within hospitality who Giovanna doesn’t know including the UK's chefs, she said: “I guess I’ve been exposed to working with chefs since I first started helping in my parents’ restaurants when I was still at junior school. I learned at a very early age that chefs are artists and as such they can have very creative and at times, very addictive personalities.

“I love to chat to established chefs with great experience and to learn from them as well as to support and mentor young chefs who are commencing their journey and are very much the future of our industry.”

Tonight the great and the good will descend on Grosvenor House for the AA’s Hospitality Awards, what started as a lunch for 200 people is now a black tie gala dinner for 1000 people with entertainment.

Giovanna said: “I love the event…but then I love socialising, eating good food and drinking good wines and I am passionate about celebrating achievement in the industry. For me it’s very much about a year’s journey that starts even before each event finishes. We start looking at new Rosette Awards and our main award winners from June really and that continues until about May when the guides go to bed. As such there’s so much gone into it that you can’t help but look forward to it.

“Each year we try to make it better, which isn’t easy. This year we’ve added a new element which we haven’t done before, which hasn’t been without challenges, but I leave that reveal till the night!”

Giovanna’s role with the AA is now part time which she says allows her to dedicate her time giving back to the industry by helping to fundraise for Hospitality Action, judging on various panels and trying to promote initiatives that she is passionate about such as The Gold Service Scholarship.

“I just love this industry in short; I never tire of it and I am passionate about attracting young people into it as I feel they could have amazing rewarding careers if they are as passionate about it as I am.”

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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 25th September 2017

Giovanna Grossi gives The Staff Canteen a personal insight into her AA journey