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Ashby Ponds’ Executive Chef Leads by Example

February 21, 2019

Ashburn, Virginia—"Your plate is your resume."

That is the philosophy employed by Kevin Kilhefner when preparing a meal at home for family and friends.  It is also a motivator for him as the Executive Chef at Ashby Ponds, a retirement community developed and managed by Erickson Living.

An Unlikely Career Journey

Chef Kevin was born in Sierra Leone in West Africa.  By the age of seven, he moved with his family to Virginia, and while he loved watching his mother cook, pursuing a restaurant job was not on his life's radar as a teenager.

He served his nation as a United States Marine from 1999 to 2003, stationed at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina and Norfolk in Virginia.  He then registered to attend Johnson & Wales University in Miami, Florida, where the idea of a culinary career intrigued him.

"I am very competitive, and my time in the Marine Corps taught me the attitude of proving yourself each day," noted Chef Kevin.  "There are many parallels to the dining industry."

He fell in love with the profession as a cook at the Prime Grill, a well-known kosher restaurant in Miami.  That experience prepared his path to serving as a chef in Washington D.C.'s popular Barracks Row district.

The Restaurant Experience at Ashby Ponds

About to celebrate his five-year anniversary at Ashby Ponds, Chef Kevin cherishes the daily opportunity to provide fresh, cook-to-order meals for residents, employees and guests. 

"Having a menu that features 25 entrees and changes quarterly is a win-win," he described.  "The creativity of our culinary team is energized each and every day, and our clientele benefits from the variety of high-quality ingredients and selections."  Chef Kevin is directly responsible for preparing meals in the 1912 Restaurant, Windows Restaurant, Dogwood Pub and the Acorn Deli, among the venues that provide dining experiences from formal to casual.

Developing a strong team that follows-through on the commitment to signature dining is a priority for the culinary leaders of Ashby Ponds.

"Chef Kevin truly leads by example," observed Victoria Leap, a General Manager within the Dining Services Department.  "Promoting from within is ideal, and to that end, he spends time with his peers, both in the kitchen and at the front of the house.  In particular, our sous chefs and line & prep cooks tap into his expertise to enhance their own careers." 

Resident Collaboration

Ashby Ponds is home to nearly 1,500 residents, many of whom have lived not only across the country, but throughout the world.  Their input is invaluable when it comes to menu offerings.  

Sally Brown serves as Chair of the Dining Services Committee, an advisory group that is a liaison between residents and the dining team leadership.  A retired nurse, she moved to the community from Lansdowne Woods in Virginia. 

"My career in health care coupled with a son being in the commercial food service industry piqued my interest in our dining program," said Ms. Brown.  "Residents definitely have diverse tastes and a range of dietary needs involving sodium and gluten, for example, and the chefs are very accommodating with requests for substituting ingredients."

"It takes strong communication, and that's one reason we love Chef Kevin.  He is very accessible and a great listener," noted Ms. Brown.  

The partnership with residents is another differentiator between Ashby Ponds and working in a typical restaurant.  "Here, we have daily access to our clientele.  If there's an issue, we are able to address it right away.  Getting to know residents as individuals as opposed to seeing a customer perhaps only weekly or monthly is a big advantage," said Chef Kevin. 

Work-Life Balance 

The restaurant business can be grueling for cooks and managers alike with long hours and job burnout a common trend.  In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that the annual employee turnover rate in the industry was 73 percent as recently as 2016.

Chef Kevin recently celebrated the birth of his first child, a son named Maximus Gabriel.  "I am so blessed to be at Ashby Ponds," he noted.  "Work-life balance is achievable here, and with a new family, it is more important than ever."

For more information about career opportunities at Ashby Ponds, please visit https://jobs.ericksonliving.com.  Visitors can register for email alerts about job postings by field of expertise and location.

Photo Caption: Kevin Kilhefner, Executive Chef, Ashby Ponds

About Ashby Ponds: Ashby Ponds, situated on a scenic 132-acre campus in Ashburn, Virginia, is one of 20 continuing care retirement communities developed and managed by Erickson Living®.  The community is home to nearly 1,500 residents who are supported by a team of more than 550 employees.  Additional information about Ashby Ponds can be found at AshbyPonds.com.

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