When I last caught up with Adam Hayes a couple of years ago, he was the executive chef at Canyon Kitchen in Cashiers, North Carolina. After helping to launch a Kessler Collection hotel in St. Augustine and flirting with the idea of opening his own restaurant, the chef is now focusing his formidable talent on Greenville, in his new position as director of culinary for Larkin’s Restaurants.

What appealed to you about the position with the Larkin’s group? >> “There was a lot of conversation around direction, and the phrase ‘taking it to the next level’ came up. That’s my specialty. I like to take [a concept], hone it, and make it that much better. I’ve been in this business for 20 years and I’ve gotten to a point in my career where I’m not just a chef. I wanted something with more opportunities, more responsibility, more everything.”

What changes do you plan to make in Larkin’s restaurants? >> “My first area of attack is Limoncello. Lark’s [Larkin Hammond, founder and chief creative officer of the Larkin’s Brand] inspiration for this restaurant came from her family’s connection to Italy, so I want to harness that, using really good ingredients. The streamlined menu I came up with has the greatest hits from the old menu mixed in with some new beats from Chef Adam. And I’m super-excited because we’ve hired Steven Musolf as [Limoncello’s] executive chef. It’s like putting a band together.
I want the best of the best.”

I know how much you loved your big vegetable garden at Canyon Kitchen. Will you have access to products from local farms in your new position? >> “The first week I was here, Lark and I planted our own garden at Larkin’s Sawmill. I bought everything to do an herb garden, and we built it and planted it. Most of the basil we use at Limoncello comes from our new garden there. We’ll plant some more stuff in the fall, but yes, I do miss my gardens.”

Is there one kitchen tool you can’t live without? >> “My chef’s knife is the only knife I carry around. I have this old Shun Ken Onion knife with a curved blade. That’s the only knife I have in my case, along with a wooden spoon, a microplane, a thermometer, and a peeler.”

Outside the kitchen, what do you like to do in your spare time? >> “I like to be outside. Every year, I go out to Texas to hunt quail with my buddy Steve. That’s where I got hooked on bird-hunting. I also like trout-fishing. And I like to squeak out some time to coach. I coached my son’s soccer team the last couple of years, and that’s probably the most rewarding part of my week.”

How would you like to put your stamp on the group? >> “I’m a very guest-focused person. I’m always thinking about what we’re doing and how we’re doing it and how we can increase the experience. Creating experiences is probably what my stamp will ultimately look like.”