AA Rosettes awards, to quote from the AA’s website, are designed ‘to celebrate successful cooking at different levels across the UK. Success or failure in achieving Rosettes is based on one or more visits by an AA inspector to a hotel or restaurant. Essentially the visit is a snapshot, whereby the entire meal, including ancillary items (when served), is assessed. AA Rosettes are solely awarded by our hotel and restaurant Inspectors, and external influences from hotels, restaurants or other guides are not taken into account. About 10% of restaurants nationwide are of a standard that is worthy of one Rosette and above.’
To win a Rosette is thus to show that not just the chef but the whole team responsible for preparing and serving food is operating at a consistently high level. Restaurants that are awarded one rosette have ‘achieved standards that stand out in their local area. They serve food prepared with care, understanding and skill, using good quality ingredients. The same expectations apply to hotel restaurants, where guests can eat in with confidence and a sense of anticipation.’
Head Chef Gert Pienaar and his colleagues were presented with the AA Rosette on Tuesday 11 December. Afterwards Brian from Penny Post was able to catch a few words with him. (Our discussion was briefly interrupted several times by customers and staff coming over to congratulate him.)
I asked him what the award meant to him. “Obviously to win any award is gratifying,” he said, “but what makes me most satisfied is that it’s helped give Blandy’s a sense of identity. As well as Blandy’s there’s also private luxury retirement properties and a private leisure club at Inglewood. It’s easy for people to blur all these together into one, which makes none of them stand out as being excellent in its own right. Of course, they’re all excellent – but my responsibility is to Blandy’s so it’s great to have that recognised.”I’ve often thought that being a hotel or restaurant inspector must be an odd job: obviously they’re anonymous, but do they stand out? “Not so you can be certain,” Gert said with a smile. “Sometimes you think you’ve spotted one but it’s pointless to act on that. Ultimately, as any chef will tell you, you have to treat every customer as if they were an inspector. That’s certainly what I’ve always tried to do.”
One of the things the AA does is to provide some feedback and consultancy for each Rosette holder, discussing how even more improvements could be made to get to the next rung of the ladder. “You’re always learning, that’s for sure,” Gert said. “More Rosettes would obviously be great and we know we’d have to work for them. It’ll create a bit more pressure.”
Too much, perhaps? I asked: after all, one hears stories of restaurateurs who’ve been driven to nervous breakdowns by the pressure of attaining, or maintaining, the Rosettes or stars they’ve been awarded. “Hopefully not!” Gert replied. “Ever since I came here seven years ago I was clear about what I wanted to achieve. The main thing, as I said, was to give Blandy’s its own sense of identity. This Rosette shows we’re on track. We’ll just keep trying to get a bit better every day and see where that takes us. So far so good!”
Finally, of course, these awards recognise the work done by all the team, not just the Head Chef. “Absolutely,” Gert agreed. “Without the support of the management and the serving staff this obviously couldn’t have happened, but my closest colleagues are of course the ones I work with in the kitchen, Gareth Morgan, George Clarke and Mark Little. What pleases so much is that we discovered later that the inspector’s final visit was during a week when I was on holiday, not even in the country. That’s how good they are. If I knew I had to be here every minute of every day, I’d know I wasn’t doing my job properly – now, that really would be pressure!”
Main picture, left to right: Gareth Morgan (Commis Chef); Gert Pienaar (Head Chef); George Clarke (Commis Chef).
Picture below: Audley Group CEO Nick Sanderson and Head Chef Gert Pienaar.
For more information on Blandy’s, please click here.