Rob Kirby, chef-director at Lexington, will be moving to a consultancy role with the foodservice firm at the end of the year, ahead of opening his own restaurant in Palma, Mallorca, with his wife Amber.
Kirby has worked with Lexington for more than 15 years and won Chef of the Year at the inaugural Foodservice Cateys in 2013. He also helped launch the caterer's annual LexChef competition.
Jon Lilley, group development chef at Lexington, will be responsible for the day-to-day management of the food team, and he and Kirby will continue to work together to develop the food strategy for Lexington.
Kirby told The Caterer that he and Amber had always wanted to open their own restaurant in Palma and the right site came up during lockdown near the Santa Catalina food market, "so we just jumped on it".
He said: "It's been a dream our whole lives to open up a restaurant, and now feels the right time to make this happen. I have a lot of love for Lexington and while I am embarking on this exciting project with my wife, Amber, a big piece of my heart remains with the Lexy team.
"We have built a strong food team at Lexington, who have been driving innovation for some time and who are the foundation for future growth and brands. I will continue working with them and remain committed to help move the Lexington business and brand forward."
The 40-50 cover restaurant, which they hope to name Market Kitchen, will be run by the couple, with Rob overseeing the kitchen and Amber front of house. Their first restaurant, it will serve simple, seasonal food, with ingredients sourced from the market fresh each day. They hope to launch it in March 2021.
Amber has spent the last 12 years working for wholesaler Bidfood and was also a co-author with Rob on their book Delicious Gifts. The pair have sought advice from restaurateurs and friends Chris Galvin and Brian Hannon of Smoking Goat restaurant in London's Shoreditch, with Amber undertaking a stage at the latter to gain further experience.
She said: "It's time for us to dip our toes in the water and do what we've talked about for so long. It gives us the chance to do something we love in the place that we love."
Rob added that it was "quite emotional leaving [Lexington] after so many years".
Julia Edmonds, managing director at Lexington, said: "I would like to thank Rob for everything he has done and continues to do for Lexington. His vision and drive have helped Lexington to become the amazing foodie and people-focused, award-winning organisation that it is today.
"Rob believes food can bring lots of fun and enjoyment to people and I would like to thank him for bringing this fun and energy to the Lexy team and our clients and customers. He genuinely cares about creating a positive experience for others and has built an incredibly strong food team who feel the same.
"We will continue to work with Rob, Jon and the wider food team, to ensure that we provide our clients and customers with the very best food and service."
An established author, Kirby's Cook With Kidsscooped the award for Best Fundraising & Charity Cookbook at the prestigious World Gourmand Cookbook Awards in 2011. Royalties from the book went to Great Ormond Street hospital school, where the chef taught cookery as part of the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts' Adopt a School programme, with which he intends to remain involved.
Lexington was founded in 2002 by former chief executive Mike Sunley and directors Katharine Lewis and Rachel Lindner. The business developed a reputation for prioritising people and food in its operations and has featured on The Sunday Times Top 100 Companies to Work For and won the B&I Caterer award at the 2013 Foodservice Cateys. It was acquired by Elior in 2014.