Karen Gruet, assistant restaurant manager at Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons, has carried off a hoard of prizes as winner of the 2019 Gold Service Scholarship.
She scooped the coveted honour at a glittering awards ceremony at Claridge's in London's Mayfair on Monday evening in front of an audience of more than 250 hospitality leaders, celebrating the seventh annual competition for young front of house professionals. The judges declared Gruet as the winner, following a tightly-fought final assessment lunch between eight contenders at the Corinthia Hotel London two weeks earlier.
She will now go on to select three work placement opportunities from a choice that includes a one-week stage at Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok; a placement during a state banquet at Buckingham Palace or Windsor Castle; a one-week stage at an overseas Rocco Forte hotel; and a five-day placement at the three Michelin-starred Waterside Inn in Bray, Berkshire.
Special commendations were given to two of the other finalists: James Dainton, assistant restaurant manager, the Northall restaurant at Corinthia Hotel London, for showing the most potential; and Tiziano de Mattia, assistant restaurant manager of Hide restaurant, London, who presented the most consistent performance.
Chairman of the judges Edward Griffiths said that the 2019 scholarship programme had enjoyed a "high calibre" of entrants: "Not only did we have a challenging time whittling down the initial 100 applicants at the early stages of the competition, but choosing the scholar from the group of eight winning finalists was a difficult task. Each year, the quality of candidates improves in terms of ability, experience, enthusiasm and social skills.
"We are thrilled that Karen is our absolute winning scholar, having shone throughout the programme. A wealth of educational and networking opportunities awaits her. The trustees and sponsors give our warmest congratulations to all of our finalists and the new scholar."
French-born Gruet moved to the UK in 2013 to initially work at the five-red-AA-starred Belmond Le Manoir, which has two Michelin stars, as a commis de rang, before moving to Restaurant Sat Bains (also Michelin two-starred) in Nottingham as a chef de rang in 2014. She returned to Belmond Le Manoir in late 2014, where she has since progressed through the front-of-house ranks of the restaurant.
She said of her role at the 32-bedroom hotel that she enjoys anticipating and exceeding guests' expectations, and is "extremely driven with a passion for knowledge and developing her skills".
Gruet is the second contender from Belmond Le Manoir to triumph in the Gold Service Scholarship. James Fleming was chef de rang at the hotel when he was presented with the award in 2014, in what was the second year of the competition. Today Fleming is reception manager at the Stafford London hotel.
Alongside Gruet, Dainton and de Mattia, the other five finalists were: George Austin, maître d'hotel, Annabel's, London; Lauren Chappell, assistant restaurant manager, Cromlix hotel, Kinbuck, Perthshire; Eleanor Dimes, junior head waitress, Lucknam Park, Chippenham, Wiltshire; Laura Schlegel, head waitress, Dinner by Blumenthal, London; and Alexander Sumerauer, first head waiter, the Ritz London.Get The Caterer every week on your smartphone, tablet, or even in good old-fashioned hard copy (or all three!).