Nicola Palmer is executive chef of the Clare Valley’s Watervale Hotel and manages the venue, along with nearby Watervale General Store and Providore, and Penobscot Farm. This creative licensee – also a qualified jeweller – managed the hotel’s recent re-development and led both interior and exterior design.   

The inspiration for her food is her organic, biodynamic, permaculture farm and sustainability practices. Penobscot Farm is managed to regenerate the soil that provides flavour and nutrition. The Watervale Hotel kitchen is farm-driven, with chefs managing the abundance through the seasonal menu, and preserving what cannot be presented fresh on the plate. Palmer believes the chef’s role at the Watervale Hotel is to enhance and enrich the fresh flavours Mother Nature has gifted us.    

Palmer was head chef and restaurant manager of her parents’ Skillogalee Winery Restaurant before leaving one family business for another – doing in Watervale what she had been dreaming of for years.    

Since re-opening in September 2020 the Watervale Hotel has received amazing accolades. It was named Best Hotel Restaurant in the World 2023 by Corporate Livewire, and Best Culinary Experience in the World by luxury travel publication LUXlife for its authentic and genuine integrated experiences. Closer to home the Watervale Hotel has been awarded Best Restaurant in a Pub or Club in Australia by the Restaurant & Catering SA, and Best Restaurant in Regional SA by the Australian Hotels Association four years running. Despite this Palmer is most proud of the Watervale Hotel being recognised for demonstrating the best innovation, environmental and sustainability practices in any Australian hotel at the National AHA awards, and the work being done to learn from Ngadjuri First Nations Elders through a program Palmer calls ‘retrospective evolution’.