Kevin Tickle - the award winning chef at The Forest Side in Grasmere

Cumbria's coastline in an area rich for foraging for Kevin Tickle

Cumbria's coastline in an area rich for foraging for Kevin Tickle - Credit: Jenny Heyworth Photography

Our Lancashire Life Chef of the Year has spent a lifetime foraging for food. He spoke to Emma Mayoh about growing up in the Lake District, his multitude of awards and life at Michelin starred Forest Side.

Lancashire Life Chef of the Year was Kevin Tickle

Lancashire Life Chef of the Year was Kevin Tickle - Credit: Pics; John Cocks

Local has always been best for Kevin Tickle. Not because it’s a culinary buzz word or out of pressure to save face by using those food producers near to his Michelin star restaurant at Forest Side in Grasmere. For the 34-year-old, finding food on his doorstep is a way of life. It’s something he’s done since he was a boy. His childhood was spent exploring the forests, the countryside and coast near where he grew up in Kirkby in Furness with dad, Larry.

‘I loved being outdoors,’ he said. ‘I still do now. I’d go fishing and shooting and exploring the countryside. I loved finding out more about what I could see and what I could find. As I got older I realised a lot of it was edible.

‘We’d explore the Duddon Valley and I’d collect hazels and elderflower. My dad was well into his home brew. It was really interesting. I was eight or nine and he taught me how to make wine. I was allowed one glass.

‘Those experiences and the way I grew up have just carried on. Although I don’t get as much chance as I used to, foraging is a way of life for me. And because I’ve been doing it for so long, I still know secret places to find the best things.’

Foraged mushrooms

Foraged mushrooms - Credit: Jenny Heyworth Photography

Kevin, who has worked in many Cumbrian restaurants as well as two Michelin star L’Enclume and Rogan & Co, was drawn to Forest Side as it presented a new challenge. He was ready to run a kitchen of his own and he now has a 14-strong kitchen team under his tutelage.

‘L’Enclume was an experience I’ll never forget, I was there for nine years,’ he said. ‘But the time had come for me to move on. It was strange because you miss the people that you spend your life with.

‘When I was approached about Forest Side, it was just too good an opportunity. I’d done some work at Rogan & Co too and that had given me some experience in what it takes to become a head chef. It was time for me to use it.’

The move also gave him that tempting opportunity to showcase produce from the region as well as support hard working farmers – for him it is about supporting the rural economy rather than a marketing gimmick. As his time also gets more split between family life and being in the kitchen, Kevin is also training younger brother Stuart in the ways of foraging and looking after the gardens at Forest Side.

‘For me, it’s about cutting out the middle man for the farmers,’ said Kevin, who lives in Sedgwick with partner Nicola and two-year-old Elsie. ‘It’s them who work the hardest. They’re out there night and day and if I can work directly with them, it will mean they get more money.

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‘One of our suppliers is Townend Farm just up the road. They are really good guys. I know I’ll get great food from them. It’s the same with the kitchen garden here. I can get exactly the kind of ingredients I want.’

This month Kevin, working with local food historian John Crouch and Michael McGregor, director of the Wordsworth Trust, hosted a special foragers’ dinner for just eight guests. The talented chef created a six course menu served with wines selected by Forest Side’s head sommelier.

‘I was recently given a copy of Cooking and Dining with the Wordsworths,’ said Kevin. ‘There are over 100 recipes from the manuscript recipe books of the Wordsworth, Coleridge, Hutchinson and Fricker families.

‘As a chef it’s interesting reading about what people used to eat. I mean, how intriguing does Coleridge’s Utopia chicken sound? Our food history can inspire you in so many ways; it’s worth taking the time to find out about what’s gone before.

Kevin’s dedication to using local food and turning it into elegant and stylish yet fuss free food has earned him a enviable reputation. But as much as he loves the international accolades, it is, unsurprisingly, the awards closer to home where he places his focus.

Last year he was named Chef of the Year and Forest Side was named Restaurant of the Year at the Lancashire Life Food and Drink Awards.

‘All of last year was just incredible,’ recalled Kevin. ‘I can’t quite believe what happened. We got the Michelin star. I never imagined that would have happened within seven months of opening. I thought perhaps we might be in the running for it this year.

‘Then my name was read out at the Lancashire Life awards and I was shocked. It was completely unexpected. Don’t get me wrong, the national and international awards are good but the local ones are my favourite.

‘Winning last year definitely had an impact on business. You see it gradually building up as more people read about it. It’s those local people who are loyal to us and get us through our winter months. Northern awards ceremonies are also a lot more fun. People know to have a laugh. I was absolutely delighted.’

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