As part of a our Chef Careers Spotlight series we’re interviewing chefs from across the UK.
Our sixth Chef Careers Spotlight interview is with Rob Kennedy, culinary director looking after Chartwells Independent, Compass Group UK & Ireland.
Despite always wanting to be a footballer, Rob loved cooking from a young age and so when it became clear that football wasn’t the career for him it only made sense to follow his passion for cooking.
His earliest memories of cooking are being with his grandmother on a Sunday and making ‘great old-fashioned British dishes’. It would be those memories that lead him to cook for members of the royal family
Chef Careers Spotlight – Rob’s Career
Getting his start in the culinary world through a local army barracks, at around 17, Rob stayed there throughout his time at college. When he finished he became a sous chef quite young and then a head chef at only 24.
Regarding his career progression, Rob said: “That all happened quite quick. I stayed with the military right up until I ended up taking a role as head chef at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst looking after officer cadets.”
This was when he started with Compass.
“Someone saw something in me,” explained Rob. “And they promoted me to the executive chef of the Academy. Where I was then able to have a lot more responsibility in such a prestigious location.”
It was during this time that he was put in charge of the food for royalty. He said: “As executive chef, I was also responsible for creating menus for visiting royals and VIPs. It was a real honour and a highlight when I got to cook for Her Majesty the Queen.”
After cooking for the Queen, Rob went on to run the Royal Box for the Diamond Jubilee, in Windsor Castle, and then, later on, to cater for the Queen’s 90th birthday.
“On the day of the event, you can see all of the security, the pomp and ceremony, and the time and effort that is going into everything surrounding you.
“You pinch yourself to think ‘well, actually I’m controlling a lunch here that is going to feed 1200 people, in five different restaurants and the head of the table is Her Majesty the Queen’.
“It’s an incredible experience.”
Along with his time cooking for the Royal family, Rob has also competed in a number of culinary competitions where he was part of the gold medal teams, including being part of the team to represent England at the Culinary Olympics, and was also the executive chef in charge of catering for Wimbledon in 2019.
Regarding his career, Rob said: “One thing for me was whether you are in a kitchen, you’re doing a competition or even you’re talking to friends who are chefs, you never stop learning and that’s the really key thing to our industry – every day can be different. You can turn the corner and always learn something new.”
Chef Careers Spotlight – Chartwells Independent
Having only been with Chartwells Independent less than two years, Rob is already being trusted to take it in new directions. He said: “One of the really good things about Chartwells, working with my team, and those I report to is that they have a lot of trust in me to deliver something new.”
This is exactly what he has done implementing QSD. He said: “It is something that I’ve set as food values across our Chartwells Independent estate; the Q stands for quality, the S stands for simple. Why simple? Because under the current industry labour challenges and inflation, complicated doesn’t work – we have to keep it simple.
“Then the D stands for delicious; everything on our counters or everything on our plates, whether it’s enjoyed at a fine dining event or some fantastic pupils coming up to the counters, it has to be memorable and to be memorable it has to be delicious.”
He described how already this was improving the quality of everything they were producing, saying: “This is something that is really helping us deliver a consistency across all of our food because our team are now really benchmarking what they have to produce by three simple values.”
Along with that, sustainability is also an important aspect of Chartwell’s running. This has led to them increasing their plant-based output, using local to lower food miles and using packaging made from seaweed and cups made from sugarcane to be more environmentally friendly.
Chartwells Outside the Kitchen
Along with the changes he has implemented in the kitchen, Rob has also been part of the activities the team does outside of the kitchen.
He said: “We have some pillars of added value that we call Beyond the Chartwells kitchen, and this could be that we do a workshop around anything from gut health or associating the gut with the brain. We will do sustainability and healthy eating.
“One exercise we’ve done, for some of the children, was just making hummus. So, we were educating them that you don’t have to use salt, you can make something healthy without it.”
They also do other things such as the forest school where they make use of the grounds that many of the schools they work with have and take the children into the forest to do some forestry and campfire cooking.
For the older students, the focus is more on preparing them for after school. Rob said: “Their next journey is actually carrying on probably to university and we create a survival pack for them with recipe ideas that they can take away with them.
“We like to do lots of workshops with children within the school but equally think about what happens beyond the journey of sixth form as well.”
A big ethos throughout all the work Rob does at Chartwells is that the food should be part of the school experience it shouldn’t be considered a separate thing.
He said: “We’re very blessed in food that we never stop learning. So, if we are working in education, the two of them should naturally come together. What we’re trying to do is to link the food we make in with the studying, through the curriculum.”
Chef Careers Spotlight.
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