Mike Adams, kitchen magician of Racines, on hunting, fishing, chitlins and the thrill of the mushroom hunt
"Are you seriously going to write that?" asks Mike Adams, stretching over his chair to sneak a glimpse at the screen. Adams is recounting his final days at T.G.I. Friday's -- specifically, the day he got canned. "I was there for sixteen years, starting as a fry cook and moving up to kitchen manager before they hired me as a general manager, but I didn't know what the hell I was doing, so they fired me," he recalls.
He got demoted, too -- twice -- at Macaroni Grill, where, ironically, he was brought on as a manager. It was 1999, at the time of the Columbine shootings, and the Secret Service wanted to decorate the roof with snipers and cordon off the parking lot, limiting access to the restaurant. "Since no one could get inside the restaurant, I closed it -- without permission from the corporate people -- and you can't close a corporate-owned restaurant without talking to the powers-that-be, so I got demoted," sighs Adams. And then he got blistered again, this time for making too much money: "I can't explain it any other way. I made too much money in bonuses and from performance programs, which, I guess, means I'm smarter than I look."
Smart enough to know that his exec-chef gig at Racines, which he's had for the past six years, is definitely preferable to the corporate life. "This is such a great place to work, and it's a really well-run restaurant with amazing owners. It's incredibly gratifying," says Adams, an Air Force brat who learned to cook from his grandmother, who had a farm just outside of Richmond, Virginia. "My mom said I became a chef because she'd never let me in the kitchen when I was a kid, but spending time on my grandmother's farm and hanging out with her in her kitchen made me want to pursue cooking."
Which he did, just as soon as he turned eighteen. "I got my first restaurant job at a Sizzler as a line cook, but I wanted to move out of the house, so my theory was that if I could get three restaurant jobs, I could make a lot of money and move out, so I took on two more jobs, bought a car and eventually moved out," remembers Adams. Today he holds down one job -- and spends his spare time hunting and fishing. "My dad took me hunting and fishing when I was a kid, and it's always stuck with me. It's a part of my life, and I don't waste anything," says Adams, who points out that he even makes headcheese from deer heads.
In the following interview, Adams expands on his connection with nature, explains why Denver and Boulder are the best food cities in the country, and likens chitlins to a pigpen.