Brian Adams never used an Easy Bake Oven when he started cooking as an 8-year-old. His tool was the toaster oven for his first creation — English muffin pizzas.
“I like pizza and it was easy to make,” said Adams, who can’t speak and is profoundly deaf. Adams, of Marathon, communicates by writing and sign language.
Today the 41-year-old is known for his elaborate cheesecakes, many layered with chocolate crusts and ganache, breakfast casseroles and his peanut butter pizza.
A chocolate cheesecake made by Brian.
Adams has been a volunteer teacher assistant at Appleby Elementary School for 21 years, though he has severe autism and a little bit of cerebral palsy. He is able to communicate to the kids and staff in his own way. He loves studying languages and reading cookbooks.
His mother, Doris Adams of Marathon, said he was cooking before the age of 8. “Between 3 and 4, his go-to recipe was stuffed green peppers,” said the office manager at First Baptist Church of Cincinnatus and Marathon town clerk.
She said her son instinctively knows how to cook. “We say he was born knowing this stuff.”
Adams said he discovered he liked cooking as a teenager, especially making peanut butter pizza. He said he watched his mother cooking in the kitchen, but didn’t have a formal teacher.
Doris Adams said she’s a very good cook, but she’s not a fancy cook.
“He picks this stuff up on his own,” said his father, Tom, a farmer and Marathon town supervisor. “There’s a lot of watching we don’t see. He’s noticing things that we don’t realize he’s noticing. Because he’s so visual.”
“Once in a while he gets out there, but not always,” said Tom Adams.
“Every Friday, after work, is his cooking day,” said his mother. “He might chill a bit before he gets started,” she said. “It’s his release. He loves being in the kitchen. This is not work to him. This is pleasure.”
“I am not home. I am at work this whole time,” she added. “The kitchen can be a disaster but when I come home from work, it’s immaculate. He might have five things going at the same time.”
What makes a good dish is “something with ingredients I like … sausage, spinach, onions, seasonings and cheeses,” Adams said. He follows the recipe, usually, and loves breakfast foods and desserts.
Doris Adams signs to her son, Brian, in their kitchen. Brian, who is deaf, communicates by sign language and writing.
“We eat like kings every Saturday,” Tom Adams said. “We don’t go out to eat. We don’t get better food than what we get here.”
“I am partial to that one, I can’t remember what it’s called,” said Tom Adams. “A casserole, with red peppers and provolone cheese ….”
The couple are so used to their son’s cooking they can’t keep track of it all.
“My favorite is cinnamon pecan French toast casserole,” Doris said. “Cream cheese is his favorite ingredient.”
“I loved that one herbalicious breakfast casserole,” said his father, a diabetic who can’t eat many of his son’s desserts.
Aaron Baier, executive director of Access To Independence of Cortland County, is not surprised by Adams’ ability to cook.
“When you really think about it, not being able to hear, not being able to speak, (how would these affect a person’s) ability to cook?” Baier said. “I would say that before you make that judgment about a person — based on what they can’t do, allow them to show you what they can. Personally, I am a person that is blind. The first thing people think: You can’t drive. How are you going to work. How are you going to do this, that.”
People automatically look at what he can’t do. “Everyone else, they judge on what they can do,” he said.
“I am not a good cook. It doesn’t have anything to do with my vision,” Baier said. “I think it’s amazing that a young man has dedicated his time to honing a skill that he is passionate about … We all have things unique to us that we are proud of.”
Doris Adams said the only TV show her son watches is “Wheel of Fortune.”
“A couple of years ago they had an ‘International Wheel of Fortune’ — they focused on different countries every day of the week. They talked about recipes at the end of the show. Pat and Vanna would sample the food. One was Greece and baklava. It said you can get the recipe at WheelofFortune.com.
Brian Adams went on to the site and hand wrote the recipe.
“I knew he was going to make baklava on Friday. I thought he would need help with the (diamond- shaped pattern),” his mother said. “I came home, it was perfect. Perfect.”
“They always look like the picture in the recipe,” his mother said. “Always.”
Brian’s cookbook collection.
Brian received a gift card to Olive Garden and the family went for dinner. They didn’t need dessert, but Brian spied a brownie lasagna. When he went home, he looked up the recipe on the internet and recreated it.
Vincent McMahon of Newport, Rhode Island, grew up in Marathon and has been a regular at the Adams home for Saturday morning breakfasts.
“I get a lot of desserts, too,” he said. He loves the casseroles. “In my mind its between a casserole and quiche.”
“I am the opposite end of the spectrum from Brian in the kitchen. I am a boil water guy,” he said.
“Brian is very focused and a meticulous man. He adheres strongly to his own methods. He’s just a really good guy.”
Doris and Brian made individual cheesecakes for his sister, Meg’s wedding party. Brian also made 12 different cheesecakes for a church Christmas dinner. He donates cheesecakes to his church fund-raiser. He made 18 peanut butter pizzas for his brother’s graduation party, Doris Adams said.
His mom said autism comes into his cooking when he gets into ruts and makes the same items over and over. A couple of years ago it was tiramisu.
“Autism is repetitive. He makes really, really good Reubens. He eats them endlessly. He will get on these kicks,” Doris said.