MIDDLEFIELD — Since around 2013, Massachusetts native Kevin Cottle has been lending his expertise at Fire at the Ridge, Powder Ridge Mountain Park’s on-site restaurant.
The 47-year-old started at the mountain park and resort as executive chef and has transitioned into his current role as director of food and beverage. Powder Ridge Mountain Park and Resort, 99 Powder Hill Road, also runs the Ridgeside Tavern.
Before Powder Ridge, Cottle was an executive chef at Jordan Caterers and the Country Club of Farmington. He competed on seasons 6 and 18 of Gordon Ramsay’s “Hell’s Kitchen” and made a cameo appearance in season 10. In his first season on the high-pressure cooking competition show, Cottle came in second place.
Cottle lives in Middletown and has a 16-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter. We recently sat down with him at Fire at the Ridge.
Question: You started as executive chef and now oversee all things food and beverage. How have your duties changed?
Kevin Cottle: When I came on board as a partner I designed the whole concept of all the restaurants. Anything food and beverage were handled by me —- from designing the chairs, bar, glassware, to the food and everything in between. and then once we opened I ran it for a while as the chef and trained somebody to run it after me. I have continued with menu development, training, customer service, contractors, food negotiations, stuff like that.
Q: What was the vision for the restaurant here at Powder Ridge Mountain Park and Resort?
KC: Our vision was how do we make this a ski resort with a metro feel. We wanted to pull city folk up here but not make you feel like you're fully in the woods... kind of design it where the metals and the glasses have a contemporary feel. When we first opened...we had a tavern menu and an upscale menu. After doing that for about a year and a half, we've learned that our customers were always in the tavern more than they were in the restaurant. So we decided to combine both concepts and just make one tavern menu.
Q: What’s the best thing on the Fire at the Ridge menu currently?
KC: Everything! But the things that will never change include the chowder. It's the chowder recipe I've been making for 20 years. The tuna nachos will never go away — me and my son created that when he was 8, so it's kind of a heartfelt one. Then we have our shrimp and clams dish — that's kind of my go-to.
Q: What did you learn from starting in the food industry at 14-years-old, working as a dishwasher and salad maker at a mom and pop restaurant?
KC: Work ethic really. A 14-year-old kid working 30, 40 hours a week, I mean, that was nuts. It was a mom and pop place and it was one man back there cooking. I just couldn't believe he was doing everything by himself. That was my first introduction, I didn't know anything different.
Q: What did you take away from your experience on Hell’s Kitchen?
KC: It was about being put into a pressure cooker really and then seeing how you survived. It's almost like boot camp. It stripped you down to build you up. I didn't go there to learn about cooking, I went there to win basically, but I took away from it standards and how you deal with pressure...Sometimes I still hear (Gordon Ramsay) in the back of my head saying "is that acceptable, is that the standard you're setting?"
Q: What is most fulfilling about your job?
KC: I'm always proud when I can develop someone into a chef. I think a chef's job is to teach and I've had a lot of past employees that are now executive chefs. It's like being a proud dad.
Q: What are you doing when you’re not working?
KC: I absolutely love snowboarding. My kids both ski so it’s something we do every single weekend in the winter. That and hiking.
Q: What do you cook for your kids and yourself at home?
KC: My son's really adventurous so he'll eat really anything. They're typical kids though— pasta anything. My daughter loves grilled cheese sandwiches like any little kid does.
Q: What advice do you have for kids that want to be you when they grow up?
KC: Work ethic. I think it's gone nowadays. Work hard and you can get what you want. Work hard and learn — be a sponge.