Kevin Ames, or “Chef Kevin” as you’ll hear him called in the Hewitt Hall Café, is the latest addition to the Naval War College (NWC) staff, and probably the only self-taught one.
Despite working in culinary services for approximately 30 years, Ames never attended a collegiate program or organized culinary institution—his knowledge comes from experience and luck.
“Anything I want to learn, I pick up a book, I get online,” Ames said, reflecting on his good fortune. “I worked under a lot of really decent chefs.”
Out of high school, he worked at Tony’s Pizzeria, now Carmella’s on West Main Road in Middletown, for a few years before moving to the Aquidneck Lanes snack bar, which was a bowling alley now occupied by a BJ’s wholesale store. While working at the bowling alley, Ames completely changed the snack bar.
“We started from basically a coffee shop, and they let me redo the whole kitchen,” said Ames, whose expanded menu also increased sales for the business.
For the next 12 years Ames took his talents to The Red Parrot, an iconic and immensely popular restaurant in Newport’s downtown tourist district. Although working in one of that city’s most popular restaurants was exciting, Ames cited the pace of the kitchen as his reason for leaving. The Red Parrot generally has between 1,200 and 1,800 customers a day, and the logistics that accompany that kind of restaurant were equally challenging.
“The difference for me was my staff there was 23 strong. You can only do that kind of volume for so long,” he said. “It’s really been a pleasure to join Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR). You get treated well and the people are great.”
Though he’s spent years cooking in a variety of culinary environments, Ames couldn’t name his own favorite ingredient.
“I’d love to say garlic, but I’d be lying,” he said. “Certain spices go with certain foods.”
Ames began working at the Officers’ Club in November and enjoyed the more relaxed environment. At the Parrot, his work week could be 60 to 70 hours and there was a lot of pressure and sometimes little support from upper management. He said at MWR, there’s an attitude of “You have a job to do, and we are here to help you,” Ames said. “MWR’s a pretty cool place to work.”
Ames arrived at NWC in mid-August, and in addition to entirely revamping the menu, is in the process of selecting cooking interns from Johnson and Wales University, a school in Providence widely known for its culinary and hospitality undergraduate programs. The Food Networks’ Emeril Lagasse is an alumnus.
Among his personal touches, Ames puts fresh food at the top. The café now makes its own French fries and will patty its own meat in the coming weeks, instead of buying frozen meat patties. He also placed an emphasis on cooked-to-order food.
“On the menu, there’s no hot dog machine any more, there are no nachos,” he said. “It’s not that they’re bad food, it’s just not my style.”
Though the menu features several of his own adaptations, he kept the three best sellers from the old café menu; which were the patty melt, the Reuben and the Philly cheese steak. Ames didn’t use any specific principles when he was revising the café’s menu.
“Everything that’s on this menu, I enjoy, or I wouldn’t have put it on that menu,” he said, adding that the menu will be revised periodically.
By Tyler Will, Naval War College Public Affairs