Chef Profile Summer 2016: Kevin Watson, head chef at Killyhevlin Lakeside Hotel & Chalets, talks to Alyson Magee
The joinery trade’s loss has been our gain with, in a coincidence mirroring the May profile, an oversubscribed joinery course at Fermanagh College of Further Education (now South West College) turning our featured chef to chefing.
“I took up the catering course instead,” says Kevin Watson, head chef at Killyhevlin Lakeside Hotel & Chalets, “and was sent on placement to the Killyhevlin 34 years ago.”
The rest, as they say, is history and Kevin worked in the kitchen with Gregory Dunne and later Gavan Murphy. “I would have learned a lot from both of them,” he says.
Kevin has been head chef for around 18 years, witnessing first hand the transformation of the venue into a four-star retreat with 71 rooms including luxury suites, lakeside chalets, an Elemis Spa, Health Club, Kove Restaurant and Boathouse Grill & Bar.
“It’s been all down to the vision and forward thinking of the Watson family,” says Kevin, who is not related in spite of the shared surname. This year, the family – who sadly lost well known hospitality figure Rodney Watson MBE in 2014 – are celebrating 40 years at the helm of the Killyhevlin.
Managing a team of around 30 in the kitchen including 16 chefs, Kevin says the Killyhevlin is “like an extended family”; in particular Senior Sous Chef Trevor Shannon with whom he has worked alongside for 20-plus years.
“Year of Food & Drink is a big focus for us and, at the Killyhevlin, we’re passionate about food and drink and local produce,” says Kevin. “We source from land, lough and sea and use as much local food as possible. Our menus change according to the season, with lambing or the fishing season.”
Kove offers a range of wholesome and innovative dishes focused around fresh local produce such as Seared Donegal Scallops with curried parsnip puree, Clonakilty black pudding and cumin drizzle; Killyhevlin House Pate with chicken liver, Fermanagh black bacon and forest berry preserve; and Slow cooked Irish Ham Hock with Colcannon mash, wholegrain mustard cream and Savoy cabbage.
Crossgar Pallas supplies chicken, lamb and beef to the Killyhevlin, while other local suppliers include Keenan Seafoods for salmon, Fivemiletown for cheese, Erin Grove Preserves and O’Doherty’s Fine Meats for its well known Black Bacon. Among the trips offered on Killyhevlin’s water taxis is one to visit the island where Pat O’Doherty’s pigs are raised.
Describing his style of cuisine as “modern with a twist,” Kevin cites Anton Mosimann as an inspiration.
He usually takes Monday and Tuesday off but can work up to six days and a 60-hour week when necessary. Kevin lives in Enniskillen with his wife and two children and, in his spare time, enjoys chilling out and recharging his batteries as well as watching his son play football.
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