As co-owner and chef of Bistro 217 and Rustic Table on Pawleys Island, Chef Adam Kirby not only has plenty on his plate, his daily grind is devoted to making sure that diners do too. His passion for both Southern and Pacific Rim cuisine made with locally sourced ingredients defines the dishes that are his calling card. Named a South Carolina Chef Ambassador in 2017, Kirby is a fixture on the state’s food scene and a dedicated supporter of local farmers and fishers.
If food makes you sentimental, then you’ll appreciate Kirby’s philosophical approach to cooking, which eschews the structure of recipes in favor of a style that’s instinctive and personally expressive. “I believe food is about feelings,” he said. “People lose track of that. Salt is a feeling. Sweet is a feeling. Sour is a feeling – that's why it makes you pucker up. So, everything you make should have as many feelings as you can put into the food."
Influenced by the home-kitchen expertise of his mother and grandmothers, Kirby began his love affair with food at a tender age. “I grew up in a house with homemade everything, from jams to mayonnaise,” he said.
But it was a move from his hometown of Atlanta to the vibrant Hawaiian islands that sparked his interest in creating his own dishes. Working in restaurants there, he found himself among chefs who were driven by competitive spirits. That energy was contagious and Kirby was hooked. It was time to leave Hawaii and seek professional training in his chosen field at Le Cordon Bleu at the Western Culinary Institute. He developed his skills and then applied them at various acclaimed restaurants, such as Stars in San Francisco, Gasthaus at the Widmer Brewery in Portland, and Spice Canoe in Atlanta. He finally landed on Pawleys Island, where he assumed the lead role at neighboring restaurants, Bistro 217 and Rustic Table. In 2017, his shrimp and grits took top honors at the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival. His secret? South Carolina shrimp!
“My favorite ingredient from South Carolina has got to be the shrimp,” he said. “I've had shrimp from all over the world, but nothing comes close to the white shrimp of South Carolina.”
Diners can experience his stellar shrimp dishes and others when they visit either restaurant.