Best chef is Cranbourne’s own

Damien Quinn, joint winner of the Chef of the Year award. Picture: GARY SISSONS 239474_05

By Danielle Kutchel

It’s official: one of the best chefs of the year works right here in Cranbourne.

Damien Quinn, head chef at the iconic Kelly’s Hotel on the High Street was jointly awarded the Chef of the Year honour at the 2021 Australian Hotels Association (Victoria) State Awards for Excellence in May.

Colin Rafferty of Cardinia Park Hotel in Beaconsfield was the joint winner.

Mr Quinn, who has worked at Kelly’s since 2004, said it was amazing to be amongst some of the industry’s “big hitters” like MPD Steakhouse in Berwick and The Espy in St Kilda.

“It means we’re doing something right,” he said.

The award also caps off a difficult year for the hospitality industry with Covid impacting venues across Melbourne.

Mr Quinn said it recognised the hard work that had gone into keeping the business afloat over the last 18 months, as well as the dedication and commitment of local hotels to their community.

Kelly’s has been in the same family for over 100 years, and Mr Quinn said the team’s passion for what they do has never waned.

“It’s our goal to continue what we’re doing and always try to be better,” he said.

As part of that, Kelly’s regularly takes on a number of work experience students and apprentices to help train the next generation of chefs.

“I’m a big advocate for training and getting youth into the industry,” said Mr Quinn, who also regularly gives talks at local high schools to explain what the industry offers.

He himself did his apprenticeship at Kelly’s in 1997 and said it was “a great experience”.

He said his own passion for cooking is fed by watching people enjoy the experience of dining out and having a good time.

With customers unable to visit in person for much of 2020, the challenge was how to replicate that experience at home as much as possible.

Mr Quinn said he and the team put together a number of take away food packages containing all the meals a family might need for weekly dinner or special occasions like birthdays and anniversaries.

With every meal they threw in something extra like popcorn, prawn crackers or garlic bread “as a thankyou for coming in”.

The community loved it and continued to support the hotel over the long months of lockdown.

Mr Quinn said that marketing was also key to getting through, with the marketing team working overtime to get the food out there while keeping the tone light and fun.

Meanwhile, JobKeeper meant that 95 per cent of kitchen staff were able to be kept on.

Mr Quinn was sure to give everyone at least a two hour shift a day to get them out of the house.

“You don’t realise how important a job is to people’s wellbeing and mental health,” he said.

Moving forward, Mr Quinn said the focus for Kelly’s now was on doing what they do best: offering locals a place to come and get a good feed while enjoying themselves.