When Adam Eudy talks about his future, he doesn't speak hypothetically. To Adam, who turned 15 on Sunday, owning his own restaurant isn't a matter of if, but when.
"When I get a restaurant," Adam says, "I'll let kids come back and show them how we do stuff."
It's a teaching philosophy born of his own culinary experience -- which is impressive, especially since he isn't old enough to drive. For about a year, Adam's been visiting the kitchen of Robert Irvine's eat! on Hilton Head Island once a week to learn from some of the best chefs in the business, including Irvine himself.
"He's an amazing talent at such a young age," said the Food Network star and host of "Dinner: Impossible." "When you see somebody like that ... and you see that spark -- that passion -- I want to encourage that."
Adam's passions aren't limited to cooking. He's also an accomplished cake decorator. He's created cakes for birthdays, baby showers and even several weddings, for which he conducted professional tastings with the bride and groom. Once a month he makes a cake to celebrate members' birthdays at First Baptist Church, where he attends with his parents (dad, Mark, is youth minister) and four siblings. He also helps cook dinner for the congregation on Wednesdays.
Between cooking and baking, Adam can't choose a favorite. ("If I do one, I like to take a break and do the other one," he said.) He plans to do both when he's running his own restaurant. For now, he's taking every opportunity to sharpen his skills, learn the culinary business and have some fun in the kitchen.
FINDING HIS CALLING
Adam got into cooking to get out of something else.
"A couple years ago ... I didn't want to do the dishes two times a day, so I decided I was going to do it one time a day and I would start cooking."
In the Eudy family, the cook doesn't have to clean up.
Cooking came naturally to Adam, whose family moved to Bluffton three years ago from Charlotte. He started experimenting with flavor combinations and branching out beyond typical dinner fare. In a recent recipe for hamburgers, for example, Adam used cumin, chili powder, paprika, lime zest, barbecue sauce and cranberry juice, among other ingredients. The family devoured them, Adam said.
His mom, Crystall, is happy to encourage his talent.
"I love it. They don't want my cooking anymore," she said with a laugh.
The apprenticeship at eat!, which is part of Adam's home-school curriculum, came about when Crystall and Mark had dinner at the restaurant one night and Chef Lee Lucier visited their table. The Eudys mentioned Adam's love of cooking, and Lucier invited them to bring the then-14-year-old to observe the restaurant's kitchen.
A year later, Adam has learned a variety of techniques, including making vinaigrettes and a classic French chicken breast, baking bread and filleting salmon. He's developed his skill set through homework assignments from Irvine, which have included tasting herbs and spices while blindfolded -- an exercise to train his palate. He's also gained invaluable knowledge about professionalism, the inner workings of a restaurant kitchen and, sometimes, having a thick skin.
"Robert's tough on him," Crystall said. "If it's not right, he has to re-do it. ... He rarely compliments him."
Irvine agrees with her assessment.
"I'm very hard on him because I see he has the talent," Irvine said. "(Part of becoming a successful chef is) knowing when to open your mouth and when to shut it and being able to take constructive criticism.
"I'm kind of a pain in the kitchen."
The experience at eat! has opened many doors for Adam. Through the chefs' connections, he was able to tour several kitchens at Walt Disney World during a family trip last year. Several local chefs have invited Adam to visit their kitchens. And Adam recently worked alongside high-profile chefs as part of Irvine's "Dinner: Possible" fundraiser for the "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" family in Beaufort. One of those chefs -- Derrick Davenport, Chief Petty Officer of the Chairman's Dining Room for the Joint Chiefs of Staff -- invited Adam to visit him at the Pentagon. The Eudys are planning a trip to Washington, D.C., this year.
Adam's experience and knowledge is evident as he prepares dinner in the First Baptist kitchen on a recent Wednesday night. He's calm and efficient, quickly chopping mushrooms and spinach into thin, uniform pieces. Volunteers address him as "chef," asking him to taste pasta for doneness and sign-off on the meals' other components.
"I try to be laid-back," Adam says through braces.
His quiet confidence carries through to a long list of activities outside the kitchen. He's played violin since he was 4, and now plays in the Hilton Head Youth Orchestra. He's a second lieutenant in the Civil Air Patrol, the Air Force auxiliary, where he's been nominated for a Commander's Commendation. He's also won awards for puppetry, and develops his public speaking skills in Toastmasters.
But food is his calling. He looks forward to attending culinary school in a few years (his top choice is the Culinary Institute of America in New York, considered the top culinary school in the world). Right now the world is Adam's oyster, Irvine said.
"He can take this as far as he wants to take it -- he's got that twinkle in his eye," he said. "He's got all the traits that could make a good chef."