Ace’s Wings & Whiskey Competition Helps Create Future Young Chefs

“It’s great that we can give a different demographic the ability to experience philanthropy,” mused Secret Sauce owner Josh Wolkon, in regards to the return of Wings & Whiskey. The group — which comprises of Vesta, Steuben’s and Ace Eat Serve — throws this party every year in support of the Denver Housing Authority’s Youth Employment Academy. This Sunday, June 2 the sixth iteration will return to Ace. The all-you-can-eat affair is a raucous, messy celebration featuring submissions from some of Denver’s most competent wing maestros — a gala it most certainly it is not.

The party itself is both jubilant and casual. Funk from local group Supermagick sets the tone as patrons are encouraged to feast and mingle. The newly refurbished patio is usually the epicenter, with wing stands, a whiskey booth, a wing eating contest and further seating available inside. A general admission ticket is $55 and grants you access to all this, along with unlimited beer and three drink tickets good for cocktails and sake.

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The Youth Employment Academy is a standalone non-profit associated with the Denver Housing Authority. The main goal of the program is to help to break the cycle of generational poverty by providing young adults — particularly from low-income backgrounds — with job training. The all-encompassing curriculum covers traditional restaurant skills including prep, knife and safety skills, sanitation, dishwashing, the POS system, waiting and bussing — and perhaps more importantly, interpersonal instruction that deals with coping with mental health issues, housing dilemmas, dealing with childcare, knowing when to call in and general communication competence. Out of their classroom, students are able to work at Osage Café — community-based culinary training center and restaurant. Director Amy Banker and her small, dedicated staff hope to impart these skills through these hands-on training. A three-week after-hours classroom environment is followed by an internship at the cafe that can be done either paid or for school credit. Students leave with a ServSafe certification and the kind of confidence necessary to compete in today’s market.

The decision to keep Whiskey and Wings fairly intimate allows the event to avoid some of the pitfalls that plague some of the city’s bigger events. The lines are never too long, and the limited offerings allow patrons to go back for seconds even after they’ve tried all the options. Also, the atmosphere has a nonchalant vibe that is especially conducive to enjoying the superb combination of hooch and fowl. This year’s participants include Secret Sauce, Osage Cafe, Cho77, Chook, Highland Tap and Burger, Vine Street pub, Super Mega Bien and Smōk. The chicken is donated, the chefs donate their time, Left Hand donates beer with all the proceeds going to the Academy.

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Wolkon has always had a belief in public-spiritedness — Vesta having long worked with youth-homelessness organization Urban Peak and Steuben’s throwing an annual toy drive and supporting Book Trust. He hopes this weekend’s event can provide a good introduction to charity, particularly hoping that it will get young people to enjoy giving. “We can still raise money throwing a great party,” he said. By every measure, he is right on both accounts.

Wings & Whiskey takes place this Sunday at Ace Eat Serve at 501 East 17th Avenue, Denver. General admission tickets are $55 and are available here.

All photography by Alden Bonecutter. Additional photos courtesy of Secret Sauce.

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