Ones to watch: Kevin Tickle

Ones to watch: Kevin Tickle

by Tom Shingler 21 March 2016

Formerly chief forager at L'Enclume and head chef at Rogan and Co, Kevin Tickle now runs the kitchen at Forest Side, a country house hotel in Grasmere. We caught up with him to learn more about his background and what he's putting on the menu.

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Tom Shingler is the editor of Great British Chefs.

Tom Shingler is the editor at Great British Chefs. After studying journalism and working on national food magazines, he joined Great British Chefs in 2015 and has travelled the length and breadth of the UK to interview chefs and photograph their beautiful plates of food ever since. Tom is responsible for all the editorial output of the website and, of course, is obsessed with everything to do with food and drink.

Growing up in the Cumbrian countryside meant Kevin Tickle knew his way around a hedgerow from an early age. After staying on at college to do his A levels, he was destined to start work as a fireman or electrician, but a part-time job at a pub ignited his love for cooking. ‘As I slowly started working more in the kitchen I decided to focus on the catering side of things,’ he tells us. ‘I did an apprenticeship with English Lakes Hotels for two years, working in five different kitchens at a two AA rosette level, then decided I wanted to push myself as much as possible. The only Michelin-starred restaurant nearby at the time was Sharrow Bay, so I went there to work as a chef de partie for a few years. After that, I moved onto L’Enclume, where I eventually worked my way up to sous chef and head forager, and stayed there for nine years.’

Kevin soon became well known for his vast knowledge of the edible herbs and plants growing wild in the British countryside, but at first he had no idea his expertise could help him in the kitchen. ‘I’ve always been into foraging way before it became fashionable,’ he says. ‘I grew up in a village called Kirby-in-Furness on the Duddon estuary so I’ve always been outdoors. I never went into town with the rest of the kids when I was younger; I would go out in the fields fishing and shooting. I’ve always had a rural upbringing – it puts you in touch with nature from a very early age. Back then I didn’t think that knowing about plants would help me in my culinary career, but as soon as I started working in kitchens I saw chefs buying foraged ingredients for £40 per kilo. I thought ‘hang on, I know where to find that down the road for free’ and everything started to click into place.’

After a few months at L’Enclume, Kevin started to expand his childhood knowledge in every way he could. ‘I was entirely self-taught,’ he says. ‘Obviously working with people like Simon Rogan and talking to his suppliers helped me realise what demand there was for specific ingredients, but I just built up my knowledge from what I had learnt as a child and read books until I was confident enough to move away from the common ingredients and seek out the rarer ones.’

But despite his appointed title as head forager, Kevin’s skills in the kitchen were more important. ‘I’ve always been a chef first, forager second,’ he continues. ‘I was sous chef at L’Enclume and then head chef at Rogan & Co., and because of that my cooking style has always been focused around natural produce. I don’t really go for all the gimmicky, flashy techniques though, and since I’ve stopped working for Simon I have focused more on the foraging side of things.’

Forest Side
Forest Side has undergone a £4.5 million renovation over the past year
Cumbrian produce
Kevin's food is entirely produce-focused, highlighting Cumbria's local produce

Into the woods

It was during Kevin’s time as head chef at Rogan & Co. – a relaxed neighbourhood restaurant round the corner from L’Enclume – that the opportunity at Forest Side came about. After developing a friendship with Andrew Wildsmith, who had just bought the hotel, he was offered the job of head chef. After a little deliberation – Kevin had never worked in a hotel restaurant before – he took the job, and has spent the last year developing the style and feel of Forest Side, stamping his mark on the menu.

‘It’s a beautiful restaurant and you’re guaranteed quality service, but the thing that really stands out is that we’re promoting Cumbrian produce more than anything,’ explains Kevin. ‘We’re not just doing it because it’s fashionable or local, but because we genuinely care about the local suppliers and the farms. Coming from a rural background means I’m very good friends with a lot of the local farmers, so we don’t just get meat from a supplier – we go to the farms direct, which gives us access to the best and leaves the farmer with more money, as there’s no middleman.’

Kevin and the Forest Side team will also make the most of the ninety different fruits and vegetables growing on the hotel’s own grounds. But one thing that will really make the menu stand out from anything else is the foraged ingredients found all over Cumbria. ‘In the summer we’ll be picking beach vegetables and herbs, lots of flowers, blossoms and roots, then when autumn comes we’ll be featuring plenty of mushrooms,’ says Kevin. ‘I could talk all day about what we could use because there’s so much around here, thanks to our climate.’

The menu constantly changes to adapt to the seasons
There is a selection of charcuterie, wines and pickles on offer – all of which are made on-site

On the menu

As head chef at Forest Side, Kevin has complete creative control over the dishes, and has spent the last twelve months perfecting them. But it’s clear that the menu will change on a regular basis – not only because it keeps things exciting in the kitchen, but because it relies so heavily on super-seasonal produce. ‘I don’t really have a signature dish,’ says Kevin. ‘If you have one then you instantly restrict what you can do, as people will be expecting it to stay on the menu forever. I prefer to evolve dishes over the years. One of the staple dishes we’re serving at the moment is a venison pastrami with smoked juniper yoghurt, Old Winchester cheese and pickled ramson capers. It’s probably my personal favourite right now, but everything will keep changing throughout the year. I like to keep things interesting and make sure my team are constantly learning.’

One of the most interesting things that Kevin’s introducing at Forest Side is house-cured charcuterie, pickles and wines fermented on-site – a trend that’s becoming more and more common. ‘My dad used to do a lot of homebrewing, something that’s now very fashionable,’ he says. ‘It’s all about preserving for winter, where menus can be a bit dull. A few pickles or wines can really transform a plate of winter vegetables into something really special. We also have a specialist charcuterie unit, and being able to take a piece of meat, give it a bit of love and watch it age and change over time is absolutely fantastic.’

Forest Side has now been open for a few months and is already getting rave reviews. It seems Cumbria is on the right track to becoming one of the UK’s best foodie counties, with the legacy of L’Enclume producing chefs of the highest order.

One of the staple dishes we’re serving at the moment is a venison pastrami with smoked juniper yoghurt, Old Winchester cheese and pickled ramson capers. It’s probably my personal favourite right now, but everything will keep changing throughout the year.

Kevin Tickle