Staff Spotlight: Chef Philip Thomas

By Sarah Sexton | Publish Date April 25, 2023

Philip Thomas was born and raised in Birmingham with a passion for music and a passion for food. “I started working in kitchens when I was 15 years old,” Philip said. “It’s what I know.”

While in school at University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), Philip played on the drumline. He decided to go to culinary school in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at the Culinary Arts Institute of Louisiana. “Back then, what they taught in culinary school had French influence.” Philip shared. “But I was also inspired by the authentic Cajun flavors from living in Louisiana. We would have crawfish boils and participate in events around town.”

After school, Philip returned to Birmingham, where he worked at Arman’s at Park Lane in Mountain Brook’s English Village. He then worked at The Club Birmingham’s upscale restaurant The View, and later moved to Hot and Hot Fish Club. Working with culinary legend Chris Hastings was challenging, inspiring, and opened Philip to a world of possibilities. “I got to cook at the Beard House in New York,” Philip shared. “In this four-story brownstone, there was a tiny kitchen. We flew to New York, immediately went to the Beard House to prep for judging in the dining rooms above us. Chris set high expectations, and we knew we had to meet them.”

After leaving Hot and Hot, Philip became the chef for the Executive Dining Room of BBVA Compass Bank, where he remained until the Covid pandemic closed the dining establishment in 2020. During Covid, Philip worked with an old friend, Chef Shelby Adams, at his restaurant, Hometown Fare. “The world was crazy, but it was a very satisfying time from a culinary standpoint,” Philip said. “Me and Shelby are old friends from Arman’s way back. It was just four of us cooking in his restaurant and serving up take-home meals for his clients.”

Philip returned to run a café in the BBVA Compass Building when, little by little, employees began returning to the office during Covid. After PNC bought BBVA Compass and the headquarters moved to Pittsburgh, the café closed, and Philip began at Kirkwood. “It has been so great working at Kirkwood,” Philip said. “Chef Adam and I work really well together – it is full-on collaboration, and it’s so nice knowing we are on the same page. Getting to know the residents – hearing what they did for a living and where they come from – it hits home that we are making a difference in someone’s day.”

Philip and Chef Adam Pouncey are Kirkwood’s two in-house chefs. Their jobs are much bigger than just cooking. They consider food costs, handle inventory and ordering, manage the various resident dietary restrictions, organize all food prep, and create all menus. At Kirkwood, we see about 500 plates a day pass through our dining rooms. It is the chefs’ job to make sure each of those plates is served with intention and all items are cooked perfectly.

When not in the kitchen, Philip spends time with his wife Renessa and their two children, Dean (4) and Evy (2). Renessa is a veterinarian, and their family is made complete by three dogs and two cats. They enjoy fishing, canoeing, hiking, camping, and spending time with their church community at Southside Baptist Church.

Philip likes to encourage all residents to share their favorite dishes with the staff. “Don’t be afraid to try new things or suggest new things. We try to accommodate and love experimenting. We’re constantly pushing our limits and being creative in the kitchen. We would love to hear how we can expand on your favorite dishes to make Kirkwood even more of an extension of your home.”

For more information on dining experiences at Kirkwood, visit www.kirkwoodbytheriver.com.




The Residents

Our residents come from different backgrounds and bring their unique qualities, talents, and life experiences to complete the Kirkwood community. Here are just a few reflections from some individuals who call Kirkwood their home.

My time at Kirkwood was spectacular; they taught me how to walk again. The staff was outstanding, and the care was beyond reproach. When I arrived, I had a long way to go. I was very sick. The first night, they had to lift me as I could not move by myself. When I left, they were chasing me down the hallway. They taught me how to perform the activities of daily living again. It was the best care I could have prayed for, and on top of that, the food was spectacular.

Eli Gold Past Resident

I fell in love with the cottage and the view from my back porch. I am excited to have a yard for Ginger, my poodle, to play in and my own garage, all within an established retirement community!

Charlotte Hamilton Current Resident

My husband and I looked at a number of places when deciding to move to a retirement community. For the most part, we found communities that said, ‘We’re going to take care of you.’ But Kirkwood was different. It wasn’t just about taking care of us. It was also about having fun, having friends, and living life to the fullest. The attitude at Kirkwood was positive and the atmosphere was comforting. We simply couldn’t resist. Without a doubt, the location was ideal. The Cahaba Room that overlooks the river, the mountains, the trails – there were just so many things about life. The community was lively. It was alive.

Alice Brooks Current Resident

We realized we were approaching an age where we might need more assistance than what just downsizing could provide. Knowing we have my sons nearby and the levels of care should we need it is comforting, and the beautiful hillside, river, and the woods makes it that much more appealing. We don’t know of any other community that has the woods, the various levels of care, and so many different amenities.

Phyllis and John Guschke Current Residents

We were moving my parents down from the Cleveland area to be near us. I looked at almost every retirement place in the Birmingham area. The second I turned into Kirkwood’s drive and drove up the hill, I knew that I’d found the perfect place for my parents to live in Alabama. In the six years that my parents have been at Kirkwood, I have always felt nothing but love and helpfulness from every staff member. Everyone is always helpful with a pleasant attitude. You can truly see and feel the family atmosphere. I’m happy that my parents can call Kirkwood their home.

Brenda Sheehan Kirkwood family member

When we learned that Cedar Ridge was being developed, that seemed to fit our needs very well. It is the ideal place for the next phase of our retirement.

Carol and Arthur Stephens Current Residents

One thing that we feel is very important here at Kirkwood by the River is the relationship that we have between the staff and the residents. They are dedicated to making our life here as safe and secure and pleasurable as possible. That goes a long way.

Fred Rogers Current Resident

The community's cottage living surrounded by a wooded, natural environment with access to future healthcare services is what attracted us to Kirkwood!

Rick and Jane Ricketts Current Residents