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Meet the chef: Robby Jenks at The Vineyard Hotel in Berkshire

Robby Jenks at The Vineyard Hotel in Berkshire

‘Eat. Sleep. And drink wine.’ This is The Vineyard Hotel’s motto which fully invites guests to indulge the palate whilst refreshing the spirit. Robby Jenks, the hotel’s Head Chef, was recently awarded an Acorn Award, recognising him as one of the industries rising stars.

Guests arriving at the luxurious five-star hotel will be impressed by the striking two-storey glass cellar holding over 30,000 bottles from both the New and Old Worlds as well as the award-winning wines from owner Sir Peter Michael’s estate in Sonoma County, California.

The award-winning 3 AA Rosette restaurant has been a destination for many years. Robby’s recent win coincided with the launch of several new Modern British menus, all designed to complement the vast selection of wines available at this, the UK’s leading wine hotel.

We talked to Robby about his culinary background, how he matches the restaurant’s delicious dishes to the diverse wine collection at the hotel and his plans for 2017 and beyond.

food at the vineyard
The restaurant holds 3 AA Rosettes

1 – Tell us how your culinary career started?
I started my culinary career 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. Directly after finishing school, I went into a professional kitchen as a Commis Chef and haven’t looked back since!

2 – How did you arrive at The Vineyard as Head Chef?
Throughout my career I have been lucky enough to work at a number of stunning properties. When I met with Andrew McKenzie (The Vineyard’s MD) all of my strengths fit exactly with what he wanted to develop, it was a very interesting process and I was thrilled when offered the position of Head Chef as we shared the same ambitions and ethos for the UK’s wine hotel.

3 – You recently won an Acorn award recognising you as a rising talent. What hopes do you have for the year ahead?
After receiving this wonderful recognition, I have worked on creating a simple but perfect dining experience. Working alongside a talented team of chefs, I have created a new menu concept using classical cooking with modern techniques using the best possible ingredients.

Throughout 2017 we plan to continue what we are already doing, constantly evolving and developing across the board with a big focus on the dining room and guest’s experience. Naturally all chefs would like a Michelin star and this has been a dream of mine since I started my journey in this industry so hopefully this will be achieved in 2017!

wine vault at the vineyard hotel in newbury berkshire
The hotel is home to around 30,000 bottles of wine, from both the New and Old Worlds

4 – The Vineyard is home to over 30,000 bottles of wine. How do you match dishes to such a diverse collection?
At The Vineyard we guarantee a very special gastronomic experience. I work closely with our talented Head Sommelier, Romain Bourger when creating dishes to ensure that each are perfectly paired with a wine from our extensive list. The Vineyard has such a unique offering of wines, it makes my role incredibly fun, our restaurant amuse bouche is a fantastic example of wine that we then match with food, so unlike other restaurants we focus on the wine as the introduction course.

5 – What is your favourite restaurant and why?
This is an incredibly hard question; with so many wonderful restaurants constantly opening and developing I could honestly not pick one! Certainly the best meal I have had this year is at L’Enclume in Cumbria with Simon Rogan.

6 – Where do you like to travel to for culinary inspiration?
After a fantastic year, I am thrilled to be travelling to California to experience Sir Peter Michael’s Vineyard (owner of The Vineyard). While I am in America I plan on going to the French Laundry which I am incredible excited to experience. I personally would say that there is no limit to where I would travel for a dining experience and inspiration as I love all aspects and styles of restaurants. As a young chef I was once told to challenge myself to learn something new everyday and I still stand by that ethos.

7 – Tell us about your new interpretation of the Judgement of Paris tasting menu.
Our journey began after this momentous event and our Judgement of Paris tasting menu was created to allow our guests to recreate it through the culinary experience we provide. Two glasses of wine are served with each course, 6 French and 6 Californian. It’s a fantastic interactive dinner experience and also creates a fun competition between the guests at the table who are offered one blind tasting. We match the food with every course and I think it is the ultimate Vineyard Menu and captures what we are about here perfectly.

The Vineyard Hotel
The Vineyard Hotel is home to 49 luxurious suites and rooms all as expansive as the iconic wines they are named after

8 – Pair up a dish from that menu with a wine you particularly like.
At The Vineyard our menu is always under development, I have selected one autumnal of my favourites that I feel showcases the very best of what the Vineyard has to offer. Our red wine poached pear with spiced crumble and pear cream dessert served with Eric Bordelet Poire Granit, 2014. I think that this combination perfectly compliments each other as the wine adds more depth of flavour to the dish, as they taste very similar.

9 – How do you inspire your team?
If I can speak from experience the best thing a Head Chef can do to inspire his team is be there. My first strength is that I am here all day everyday and I have no plan not to be, with or without the success we want. With me being a young chef with a long future ahead of me my style is not to stand still so this can naturally inspire a team.

10 – What sustainable and environmental methods inspire you and why?
I work closely with local suppliers such as Wiltshire Truffles to ensure that we consistently guarantee a very special gastronomic experience. We use local ingredients where possible; with our suppliers having a focus on the ingredient that they provide for example we use a different supplier for beef to pork. Our vegetables are all handpicked and carefully discussed on a weekly basis and I am hoping to develop our own garden here at The Vineyard, where we can purpose grow for our menu!