Part one of my interview with Wade Kirwan, executive chef of Adrift, ran yesterday; this is part two of our chat.
Favorite restaurant in America: This is a tough one, but I'd say Boulevard in San Francisco. The food is unbelievable -- and they do it right. The quality of ingredients and the care they put into making everything really shows. I did a stage there and got to see the kitchen first-hand, and I was really impressed.
Favorite cheap eat in Denver/Boulder: Tacos y Salsas. Their tortas rule, and they serve these roasted jalapeño peppers that are so, so hot. I learned the hard way not to eat the whole thing; I was all red and sweaty with hiccups for about half an hour.
If you only had 24 hours in Denver/Boulder, where would you eat? I'd swing by Snooze for breakfast, then Steuben's for lunch, followed by happy hour at Charlie Brown's, dinner at Sushi Sasa, and then, for a late-night snack, I'd go to Pete's Kitchen. These are all places I like for various reasons: I've either had a good time there, or I really just love the food.
What you'd like to see more of in Denver/Boulder from a culinary standpoint: I'd like to see more chefs support other chefs. I'm completely guilty of not doing what I preach, but it would be rad to have a chef tell you that they're coming in for dinner...and then actually do it.
What you'd like to see less of in Denver/Boulder from a culinary standpoint: I'd like for people to not be so trendy with their dining choices -- you know, only going to the hot, new spots. We need to remember the restaurants that have paved the way, not just the new, cool ones.
Most memorable meal you've ever had: Restaurant Vetri, in Philadelphia. My girlfriend and I went on a Friday, when they only offer a tasting menu, which amounted to about fifteen courses. Our server told us that they only send out some of the courses and that if there was anything we really wanted, to let her know. I ordered the goat ribs and we started talking, and the next thing I know, the sommelier is at our table pairing wine with the menu. They ended up sending out the entire tasting menu, Mark Vetri came out, and at the end of the meal, the sommelier took us on a tour of the restaurant and the charcuterie room. It was pretty epic.
Favorite childhood food memory: Eating pizza and drinking Coke with my family. To this day, I can't have pizza without soda, and I don't even drink soda.
Favorite junk food: I love, love, love Chunky Monkey. Oh, my God. The banana and chocolate -- that's the best. I can't stop eating it until it's gone, and then I feel like a fatass.
What are your favorite wines and/or beers? PBR and a shot of whiskey.
What's the best food- or kitchen-related gift you've been given? Knowledge. Anything I can learn from someone I work with is still really important to me. I'm constantly learning, and to me, that rules. I also got a Jose Garces autographed cookbook that's very cool.
Rules of conduct in your kitchen: Don't be late. My friend and fellow chef, Paul Reilly, who I worked with at Encore, told our extern: "Don't come in late, because when you're late, you let everyone you work with down." That really resonated with me and changed the way I think.
What's never in your kitchen? Disrespect. No front-of-the-house vs. back-of-the-house bullshit. Be nice to the people you work with, because you're often around them more than your family. In fact, come to think of it, they are your family.
What's always in your kitchen? Michael McDonald, the Silver Fox. He's the most awesomest musician ever. I also insist on respecting our ingredients, sharp knives, sweet chile sauce and fun. If you can't have a good time and love what you do, then why are you doing it? Half nelsons and fake-outs are also common in our kitchen.
Favorite dish on your menu: The roasted-mushroom-and-goat-cheese empanadas with tomato jam and smoked crème fraiche. They're really time-consuming to make, but I really think it's worth it, so they aren't going anywhere.
Biggest menu bomb: One time I had to come up with a salad, and I wanted to get a little funky. The greens with the curry vinaigrette, candied chickpeas and naan croutons was a hit with the staff, but I think we only sold about two in two weeks, and then we finally gave up and took it off of the menu. I was really discouraged about salads after that.
One book that every chef should read: On Food and Cooking, by Harold McGee. It's by far the coolest food book out there. It's all about the science behind cooking and why things cook the way they do. There are things like how coffee affects you, and also strange pictures of the dichotomy of plants. When I first started reading it, I couldn't go to bed without getting through at least ten pages.
Best recipe tip for a home cook: Keep your knives sharp. Oh, and also get a Magic Mop. It does everything.
Weirdest customer request: This wasn't really a request per se, but more of an allergy. This person came in, asked if we had shrimp, and then told the server that they were allergic to black tiger shrimp but that other kinds were just fine. I thought that was pretty weird.
Weirdest thing you've ever eaten: Goat-liver mousse, and I hated it. I like liver a lot, but goat liver just has this funky-ass flavor that's gross.
Culinary heroes: Thomas Keller, Iron Chef Jose Garces and Jack Tripper. Tripper's character on Three's Company was so super-cool, and he was a chef who really influenced me. He's hilarious, he can cook and he got all the girls.
If you could cook in another chef's kitchen, whose would it be? Probably Jose Garces at Amada, in Philadelphia. His food is just so bad-ass, and I really like his cooking style -- it's new-school Latin with lots of other influences, and his food is fucking beautiful.
Favorite celebrity chef: Thomas Keller. He's so very inspirational, and his food is on a different level from almost anybody else. There's a page in The French Laundry Cookbook called "The Importance of Rabbits," where he talks about having to slaughter a rabbit for food and how the process really made him think about it. That's pretty intense.
Celebrity chef who needs a muzzle: Guy Fieri. Take your glasses off of the back of your head, dude.
Most humbling moment as a chef: Walking through the doors of the James Beard House and realizing how many amazing chefs have graced that kitchen. I had tears in my eyes.
Greatest accomplishment as a chef: Going to Indianapolis with Matty Selby to help with the Vesta Dipping Grill cookbook. It was an amazing experience, and extremely gratifying to see the finished product and then realize, oh, yeah, I cooked and plated that dish!
What's your dream restaurant? Sixty seats, doing cool food -- stuff that doesn't sell here very well and that's a little off the beaten path for Denver.
Last meal before you die: Duck confit with a side of seared foie gras, a piece of pizza, maybe a pork chop, some kale and my mom's French fries.