Rob Kennedy, Executive Chef, Royal Military Academy Sandhurst

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 27th August 2015

Rob Kennedy is the executive chef of the 'Royal Military Academy Sandhurst' where he manages menus for visiting Royal family, Senior Dignitaries and World Leaders.

*He is now Culinary Director at Compass Group UK and Ireland.

He has over 80 Culinary Awards including 20 Gold Medals, which he has achieved since 2003. The Staff Canteen caught up with Rob, to find out what it is like to cook in such a prestige military environment.

How do you go about designing menus for royalty?Strawberries resized

When its UK visits it’s pretty straightforward. I design a seasonal menu, as you would in your own one star restaurant. When it comes to HM Queen or immediate Royal Family, it becomes a bit more challenging and the menus need to be approved. Once your clients have confidence in your cooking, you are left to design your own menu, which is the stage I am at now. The only time I have to be a little more tentative is when we cater for international visits – I recently cooked for the Commander of the Indian army and the menu was dietary driven due to religion. It can become challenging, but with the amount of different ingredients you can use, it becomes a very exciting and proud experience.

What dishes did you cook the first time you cooked for the Queen?

It was 2006 we went completely Scottish and we used salmon and venison. At the time my friend worked at Buckingham Palace and he provided some great advice. From 2010 to 2012, I was heavily involved working at Windsor Castle with the Royal Windsor Horse Show. We worked in the gardens of the Castle grounds and it was quite a unique cooking and fantastic working environment. We had the view of a stunning castle, with daily sightings of the Royal family.

Five most influential chefs in career:
  • Jean Christophe Novelli
  • Marco Pierre-White
  • David Quigley
  • Albert Roux
  • Michele Roux Jr
Top 5 comfort foods:
  • Pulled Pork pitta breads with all the trimmings and spice
  • Anything on a BBQ served with a chilled beer
  • Pepperoni Pizza with garlic bread
  • A really good home cooked sausage Hot dog with lots of caramelised onions and English mustard
  • A home-made burger with cheese, relish and pickles

Your career path has been quite different to most chefs hasn’t it?

The path and the achievements within my chef journey are probably very different to running a restaurant in Park Lane or Mayfair; but I think it offers me great adventure and big responsibility. It comes with a lot of pressure but part of being a chef is absorbing pressure with passion. That’s why we get so excited about what we do.

Was being a chef always the dream?

When I was a kid my Nan and Grandad lived on a farm in Cambridgeshire. We visited every weekend and I helped out on the farm as much as in the kitchen. I’ve realised now that working on a farm is long hours and you are solidly involved in ingredients and food. If you are not growing it and harvesting it, you’re cooking it. Doing that from a young age I think is what inspired me. I really enjoy all the traditional, old fashioned cooking and as my career has gone on my love for food has grown.

Do those traditional dishes still influence your cooking style?

My food now is using wholesome ingredients, which are uncomplicated and work. Years ago when there wasn’t a lot of money about it was all pies, crumbles and honest cooking. I guess now I look at the simplicity of that cooking, without taking away the old techniques, I make them modern.

You took quite a traditional route into the industry, working in kitchens as a teenager and then attending Farnborough College but were there any chefs in particular who inspired you?

Gary Rhodes, Marco Pierre White and Gordon Ramsay – I used to follow them all quite closely. I worked with Marco and Jean-Christophe Novelli and I found Jean-Christophe a very inspiring chef. It was his love of food, he grew up with it like I did.

How did you end up in your current role?Rare fillet steak and onions, horseradish mayonnaise

I became a head chef at 23 and at a young age you make a lot of mistakes but you learn very quickly. I was approached by the military academy team, who wanted me to go and work in Sandhurst. It was exciting as I’d always heard about Sandhurst and the nature of people who go through there. Within a year of running one of the restaurants in the academy, I went on to run Old College which is the main restaurant that looks after all the big events, including the top table for our Sovereigns Parade Lunch service. It was from Old College that I became the executive chef of the entire academy.

What does it mean to be the executive chef of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst?

Part of my job role is to maintain the standards across my eight restaurants, ensuring the 3,500 meals a day are of a good quality. I engineer all of the big International state visits. In 2006 we also had the pleasure of looking after Prince William and Prince Harry. There was a lot of media attention obviously but that year was tremendous – it was probably the busiest year. It’s nice to design menus for the Royal Family; don’t get me wrong, I would love to have a one star restaurant in the city and climb up the Michelin levels, but to be able to deliver top restaurant food for a very senior clientele, is something I dreamed of as a young boy. To be in control of that makes it a great pleasure to come to work every day.

sandhurstIs there a lot of pressure to keep up the standards and expectations?

There can be – The Sovereign's Parade lunch is for 1100 people in five different restaurants and they eat at the same time. I have to manage that and it can cause pressure. When you are in command, it’s your menu, it’s your food and it’s your name above the door – that’s the pressure of any chef owner, exec chef or head chef has. But we wouldn’t be in those positions if we couldn’t absorb that pressure.

Is it still possible to have a seasonal menu when cooking for UK based clientele?

Yeah, we still got excited about asparagus when that came in and I was using Oxford asparagus. Sometimes as a chef you’ve got to explore quality, I speak to a lot of people to find out where the best produce is because you need that to achieve the best results. When it comes to meat, poultry and fish, every chef should be conscious of where their produce comes from. I also have a poly tunnel that grows some great seasonal vegetables, salads and herbs.

How many chefs do you look after?FullSizeRender

As well as looking after Sandhurst, under the Compass Group umbrella, I look after the north of England including Edinburgh Castle, and all of the south east of England. At Sandhurst I have about 25 chefs, and within the rest of the business that I oversee, probably 150 to 200. When you step into a role outside of where your familiarity you become almost a chef consultant. You have to set good standards and go into other kitchens and offer advice to manage and maintain a good looking food offer.

Are the chefs that you work with military?

There’s a bit of a mix. I’d say 85% who work with me are civilian chefs and there is a contingent of military chefs about but most of them are deployed on exercise but it is good to work with them when I can.

What’s it like working in a military environment?

From the outside looking in people in general would probably find it quite amazing and a unique situation to adapt to. As a kid I grew up with the British Forces, as my Dad was in the RAF. This helped familiarise me with the military life. In the military expectations are a lot higher, everything has to run to precise timings and it’s much disciplined. People may say our client is demanding, but I get on fantastically well with all of them. I’d encourage young chefs to experience this wider field of catering. You will remember that timing is very crucial in the restaurant business.

You have an impressive selection of culinary awards and gold medals, but which one are you most proud of?

Roast salmon, honey crème fraiche, peas

I started competing in 2003, and I’ve achieved over 80 national and international awards. In 2004 Compass Group went out to the Culinary Olympics. I was going as support chef, to learn from the guys who have been doing it for many years. I learnt a lot and returned 4 years later in 2008 to take the Gold Medal on the first day. For me it was great to take a gold medal and a big highlight of my career. I still compete at an international level but UK competitions I tend to mentor and judge.

Is competing something you would encourage young chefs coming into the industry to do?

Absolutely! The reason is because you get to go away, experience working with different chefs and no matter what the award is, you come away feeling inspired. You go back into your restaurant excited. Everyone likes a bit of change and at the same time reward and achievement; with a competition you get both. 

In the future, would you like your own restaurant?

I’m really happy doing what I’m doing now. Enjoying my “field to fine dining” journey, great restaurant food, working environment and fantastic clients. All the menus at the fine dining restaurant are designed by me – but moving forward I would like to be considered in media opportunities, I see that as a future step.

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 27th August 2015

Rob Kennedy, Executive Chef, Royal Military Academy Sandhurst