Born in Jamaica, Adrian moved to New York at the age of 12 to live with his grand-mother, a chef who would inspire him beyond recipes. But, after her sudden death a few years later, Adrian was forced to join his dad north of the border, in Ajax, Ontario. The young chef, described as Contemporary Canadian, has known humble beginnings, working for Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment while studying full time the arts of cooking. Lucky on him, hard work pays off! He was an active partner in Massive Catering; was a contender on Chopped Canada; and started a food and beverage consulting company that has worked with Rock Lobster in Toronto, Gangster Burger and the Libertines. 2015 was the milestone year for Adrian though; The Dirty Bird opened its doors and the now famous maple-dusted, ‘‘Northern-Fried’’ chicken & waffle dish is literally sticking to people’s fingers. Hungry yet?
You’ve had quite a journey with several challenges hitting you at a very young age. Did you channel those difficult times through creativity?
‘‘Creativity definitely played a major role. When I lived with my grand-mother, I started cooking with her. I would see her make something out of nothing after a long day’s work, and put a meal on the table within 10 minutes. I just got captivated with it. Being able to cook and explore that craft got me through a lot. I would even go to the library and read cookbooks.’’
You started at the bottom and worked your way up; do you believe that made you a better chef?
‘‘When I worked for Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, it was always random odd jobs at different venues, with different concepts. One day you could be at a kid’s concert just doing hot-dogs, and the following day it would be a custom catering. Every day was different and you never knew where you’d end up. Most people wouldn’t think you’d learn a lot from this, but I did. It’s a sink or swim situation, you know? You don’t receive training; you just have to figure it out.’’
You’ve partnered quite a few times with Brian Butler before opening The Dirty Bird. What have you learned from working with him?
‘‘I started working for him as a cook and that’s actually where the main signature dish at The Dirty Bird, The ODB, was invented. From the first day, I told Brian that I loved what he was doing, that I wanted in. I was very ambitious. I’m not a know-it-all; I’m always a student and I wanted to absorb everything that I could learn. It did fast-track my career because I was a go-getter; I got in early and stayed late. We ended up starting Massive Catering and it was huge! That was my first test at entrepreneurship.’’
What’s the story behind Gangster Burger?
‘‘After the catering, I worked for MLSE but I wanted to pursue entrepreneurship. I figured if I didn’t take the risk, I’d never know what was out there but I still needed to pay my bills. I asked to work part time but there wasn’t any room for me, so I had to just jump and give it a try. I partnered with two guys, found a space, and it blew up crazy fast! A lot of celebrities, athletes and musicians were coming in. It also helped that the food was good. (smile) After a while though, I felt like I had done my time. I’m classically trained; I wasn’t feeling challenged enough. That’s when I started my consulting company. Rock Lobster was my first client.’’
Beyond the ingredients, what makes a good chef?
‘‘It’s all about the craft of cooking; I don’t look at recipes, I look at processes. Anybody can come up with a recipe, but it’s the process of how it’s done that makes it unique. I try to develop these different processes, for example, the baked mac & cheese we do at The Dirty Bird, is wrapped with chicken skin instead of bread crumbs. I read cookbooks, not for the recipes, but to know where the chef’s head was at and how he arrived to a particular dish. I want to know where the inspiration comes from.’’
I’ve heard you say that your only competition should be yourself, is that the motto you go by?
‘‘People tend to do one thing that’ll get them some media attention, but then everybody else will start doing it. What’s important is to constantly set yourself apart from everyone else. For me, it’s culinary art and I’m a culinary artist. I don’t work from a food perspective; I draw recipes out and construct them on paper, like an architect. That concept is my blue print and once I’m satisfied with it, I go in the kitchen and compose the dish from memory. It’s the methodology to my own style.’’
What’s next for you?
‘‘I’m working on doing my own web series because I feel like people don’t know me that much and that way they’ll be able to see what I’m up to. There’s also more TV stuff, new restaurants, and more concepts to come.’’
‘‘I also really see The Dirty Bird as a Contemporary Canadian brand. It embodies what being Canadian means: people from different races, colors, ages. All those different types of people come in and it’s the reason behind the communal seating of the restaurant; it forces conversation. It’s family-oriented and reminds me of my household when we had Sunday dinners. Everybody would come over; it was like Christmas every Sunday! It’s what I’m used to and what I try to emulate in the restaurant.’’
Hennessy is all about #ArtofTheChase; how is the chase part of your every day?
‘‘If you focus on what other people are doing, it’s nothing more than a way to be distracted from what you should be doing. It’s also about always setting new goals and never be without motivation. You get better by continuously achieving a goal, and then setting another goal, and another one. You always got to have that drive to be better. Ultimately, I’m shooting for a James Beard Award and a Michelin star. I haven’t even shown my true skills; you’ve seen nothing yet!’’