Wade Kirwan is back in a LoDo kitchen. The chef was a fixture at Vesta Dipping Grill from 1999 to 2010, and after that "bounced around quite a bit," he remembers. He worked at Solera, helped a friend open Crash 45 — which is now turning into Fort Greene — and then did a stint with Amos Watts at Jax Fish House in LoDo while he waited for Beast + Bottle to open. When it finally did, he joined chef/owner Paul Reilly in the kitchen there as chef de cuisine for a year and a half before deciding it was time to do something new.
And the something new was in a familiar place: Last fall he called the GM at Jax and asked for a job up front, shucking oysters. "Shucking is a good way to get your foot in the door," Kirwan says. "It's a whole different world. It was fun, really fun...and hard, really hard."
And then when chef Eric Lee, who'd replaced Watts (he's now at Acorn) announced he was leaving Jax, the Big Red F crew that owns Jax asked Kirwan if he'd like to take over as chef de cuisine. "Wade has always been a fixture at Jax and has forever been a member of the family,"says Adam Reed, executive manager of Jax Fish House. "When I started at Jax LoDo in 2007, Wade was at Vesta and stopped by our back door a couple times a week to swap stories, share ingredients, or simply shoot the breeze. His passion was clear even then, and he was (and is) such a character, it did not take long to get to know and love him."
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Kirwan thought about the offer overnight, then took the gig. Now he's back in the kitchen, after six months in the front of the house. "I'm getting used to the crew and the way they work," he says. "I'm really, really happy."
Later this month, he might make some changes to the menu. While all of the Jax restaurants — four in Colorado and one in Kansas City — feature some staples, chefs can also introduce dishes that are unique to their own kitchens. But right now, Kirwan is concentrating on keeping the kitchen afloat at this seafood spot.
"And we're looking for cooks," he adds. "Send them my way."