Hughes considers his 'Chopped' showing a success
By Rebecca Bunch
Thursday, September 6, 2018
EDENTON — Adam Hughes may not have smoked his competition on the recent grand finale of the Food Network’s “Chopped: Grill Masters,” but the Edenton resident nonetheless did the Tarheel state proud showing both his fellow contestants and the show’s audience his skills cooking pork and other meats.
Hughes, a pitmaster and owner of Old Colony Smokehouse, lost his bid for the contest’s $50,000 grand prize after his undercooked turnips got a thumbs-down from the show’s judges. However, he still considers appearing and competing on the show a valuable experience.
“The highlight for me was meeting and cooking for Myron Mixon, who is the king of competition barbecue,” Hughes said. “He has won more world championships than anybody and he was a big influence on me getting into competition barbecue. I was also thrilled to meet Leonard Botello, who was the winner of the Texas competition.”
Hughes said he enjoys visiting famous barbecue restaurants around the country and Botello’s restaurant “has been near the top of my bucket list for a while.” He said he and Botello have stayed in touch since the filming of the competition, and he hopes to visit Botello’s restaurant.
Hughes said although he didn’t walk away a winner on “Chopped: Grill Masters” — that honor went to Melvin “Boots” Johnson, who prepared Memphis-style barbecue — he would “absolutely be interested” in competing on another television show.
“I love to cook and talk about barbecue,” he said. “I also like to talk about where I’m from and my heritage. Not many people my age grew up doing the things I know how to do. I’m blessed that so many traditions made it to my generation because those traditions are quickly getting lost.”
Barbecue in particular is a lifelong passion of his.
“I’ve been eating barbecue for as long as I can remember,” said Hughes, who is 35. “I grew up like most people in eastern North Carolina, going to pig pickin’s, eating barbecued chicken from the fire department, and of course my family cooked barbecue for most special occasions.”
Hughes said when he was growing up it was his mother who handled all the cooking in the family. It wasn’t until he was in college at East Carolina, he said, that he figured out if he didn’t want to starve, he’d better learn to cook.
“My dad gave me a grill and I learned to cook anything and everything on it,” he said. “Before my four years of college were over, I found myself cooking for big crowds at football-game tailgates.”
Hughes got interested in cooking competitions after seeing some on TV and thinking “they looked like a lot of fun.” He’s gone on to compete in more than 50 professional competitions in 10 different states, winning championships this year in North Carolina, South Carolina and Maryland. He also won a world ribs championship in 2017. He figures he competes in 20-25 contests a year.
While he favors the vinegar-based pork barbecue that’s so popular in eastern North Carolina, Hughes can adapt his prep style to capture different regional flavors depending on where the competition is taking place.
“Judges in Florida don’t appreciate that vinegar twang like the North Carolina judges do,” he explained, giving an example. “But good barbecue is good barbecue no matter where you go, so it’s mostly the same. I do take a scientific approach to barbecue so I’m able to replicate anything that is successful in a particular region. I focus on tenderness and the texture of the meat more so than seasonings or spices.”
He said it was the chance to put small-town eastern North Carolina food in the national spotlight that convinced him to say yes when the producers of Food Network’s “Chopped: Grill Masters” competition show contacted him last December and asked if he’d be interested in competing.
“I talked with them really thinking there was no way I’d ever make it on the show,” Hughes said. “My personality is not at all like the people you usually see on those shows. When they told me the theme of the series was to showcase different barbecue regions, I really wanted to bring small-town eastern North Carolina to a national stage.
“People throughout the country think of North Carolina and immediately think of Charlotte, Raleigh, and the larger cities,” he continued. “Small-town North Carolina seems to always get overshadowed by the big cities. We are so rich in heritage and I wanted the world to know it.”
Asked about the challenge on “Chopped” of having to prepare not only meat but an appetizer, entree and a dessert, Hughes said he welcomed the opportunity.
“That was actually exciting to me because in most competitions I’m turning in the same four meats,” he said. “At home I utilize the grill for all kinds of things outside of traditional barbecue. Some of the competitions I attend have additional categories that are not what would necessarily be considered barbecue categories and I’ve won first place in several of those including chicken wings, dessert, steak, vegetables and burgers. I’m a versatile cook and appreciate the challenge.”
When Hughes isn’t competing in cooking events, he works as a general contractor for Williamston-based A.R. Chesson Construction Company. Owner Al Chesson said his company is proud of Hughes and his showing in the “Chopped” competition.
“He has worked with us for almost nine years,” Chesson said. “Adam is a very valuable asset to our firm. He is very competent, dedicated and professional. Adam has the ability to know when to delve into the details of a project as well as serve as a visionary with the ability to understand the larger scope of the project.”
Chesson said the Edenton projects Hughes has headed up for his company include the expansions at Regulator Marine, Colony Tire’s warehouse and the N.C. Department of Transportation Chowan maintenance facility. Hughes also oversaw renovations to the Edenton-Chowan Schools Central Office and construction of the Kellogg Building Supply showroom.