It has been said that meaningful work is a tremendous happiness and the new executive chef at AQUA by El Gaucho derives and shares that each day with his team and guests. Kevin Benner grew up in Bellingham, WA and his culinary journey began the summer after he graduated from high school. “I was searching for something that felt real – a job that wasn’t just something you did for a pay check. I wanted something more.” His mother suggested that he apply for a job at a local bakery and, like many 18 year olds, he initially discounted that idea. But after a brief period of soul searching he realized his mom knew him pretty well and he got the job. Kevin felt instantly at home and says, “Time spent wondering where I fit in was soon filled with reading cook books. I worked at night making fresh bread, cookies, muffins and pies, and spent my days reading and learning everything cooking related.”
While earning an Arts and Sciences degree from Whatcom Community College, Kevin continued his culinary career in the Bellingham area working as a line cook and later created a baking and pastry program for a private golf and country club in Bellingham. This was a turning point in his career, as he evolved into a sous chef role and ultimately became the executive chef. After eight years, Kevin decided he was ready to grow and expand his knowledge, so he packed his bags and moved to Manhattan working at Danny Meyer’s restaurant in The Gramercy Park Hotel. Kevin says this experience proved to be his biggest learning opportunity. “I learned how a small kitchen can execute on a consistently high level using local produce and meat for a large amount of people.”
Kevin loved the experience but says he missed the beauty of the Pacific Northwest, the food available here, and his “food family”. He returned home and continued to learn and refine his skills over the next three years under Chef Mark Bodinet at Copperleaf Restaurant in Cedarbrook Lodge.
Kevin joined the Fire & Vine Hospitality team in March 2018, sharing his talents in many of the properties before being offered the Executive Chef position at AQUA. “I am excited to continue to build on the great culture that exists within the company. The simple truth is that we are always doing our best to create an unforgettable experience.” Kevin says his cooking style is French-influenced but his primary focus is about working with local farmers to complete the circle with their fresh ingredients.
Kevin and his wife Lauren have a daughter named Avory and says his favorite meal was cooking gnocchi together at home. He also enjoys golf, trail running, cycling, boxing, motorcycles, sharks, dinosaurs, guns and kittens.
When asked about his philosophy in the kitchen, Kevin says “I believe in delicious food, teamwork, and making it nice.” We think that sums him up perfectly and hope you will join us soon to meet Kevin and enjoy several new dishes and updated classics on AQUA’s summer menu.