Adrift chef Wade Kirwan offers a colorfully worded explanation of his pet peeves
It's mid-day, and the lights are dim at Adrift, the tiki bar and restaurant that opened three months ago on South Broadway. Wade Kirwan, Adrift's executive chef, is sprawled out in one of the chartreuse half-mooned booths, pounding water and soaking up the silence. "I love this, when I'm here alone and it's quiet," he says. Minutes later, staffers start to trickle in, and one of them, a bartender, reveals that he just lost a good friend. Kirwan excuses himself to embrace his friend and colleague. When he returns, his eyes are red and misty and he takes a deep breath.
Chefs, by and large, are emotional beings. Kirwan is no exception -- and when he's in the kitchen, that emotion is especially palpable. Born in a small town in Pennsylvania, he's been cooking since he was a kid, helping his mom out in the kitchen and scooting home at the same time every night to eat dinner. "My mother made me -- made me -- come home every single night at 5:30 for dinner. There was no getting out of it," he remembers. And while she wasn't a "gourmet chef," notes Kirwan, "her French fries were amazing. They made me so pumped, and during the holidays, we also used to make gingerbread houses together."
Kirwan's first job was as a stock boy at a grocery store, but it didn't take long to maneuver his way behind the line. "The cooks were always asking me to do stuff -- make fruit baskets, peel potatoes, lots of prep work -- and I really enjoyed it," he says. And as he continued to move from gig to gig, he learned the ropes, which prepared him for a move to Colorado. "I'd also worked as a dishwasher and a prep cook at a country club, and as a busser in a hotel, but I lived in a shit town, and when a buddy of mine called and said he was moving to Colorado -- and had a job for me -- I pretty much packed up and left," relates Kirwan, who snapped up a restaurant stint in Boulder before heading to the hills of Breckenridge, where he landed at the now-gone Cafe Alpine.
"That's where I really learned about food and good ingredients and taking care with your job and your craft," says Kirwan. "I remember getting some dragon tongue beans in one day and thinking that was the coolest name for a bean I'd ever heard of. Up until then, I didn't even know things like that existed."
He'd soon learn more about exotic ingredients, his craft and what it was like to burn his knuckles on the burners at one of the top restaurants in Denver: Vesta Dipping Grill. "I walked in, talked to the guy on the grill, who talked to someone else, and they told me that the chef -- Matty Selby -- was in New York, staging at Gramercy Tavern for two weeks," recalls Kirwan. But he wasn't willing to wait that long. "I'd been to Vesta for dinner in the past, and I just loved it. I knew that someday I wanted to work there, so I was like, fuck two weeks, I'm going back tomorrow." And he did, snatching up a line-cook position -- and, a month later, the sous-chef job. The promotions continued until he decided to take a sabbatical to San Francisco.