Adam Libby can’t go anywhere in his hometown of Lincoln without being recognized. As a cheerful, funny people-pleaser, Libby was already well known around town — and that was even before he became a TikTok celebrity.
Libby’s TikTok account, Chef Adam Libby, has 1.7 million followers who can’t get enough of the videos of the charming amateur chef preparing — and then, most importantly, eating — an array of dishes.
It may take Libby, who has Down syndrome and turns 31 on Thursday, a little longer to create treats like pork belly tacos, maple-glazed salmon and pecan pie than some other chefs, but the journey is just as delicious as the destination.
Libby’s twin sister, Emily McCormick-Libby — who with her wife, Sara, helps make the videos and manage her brother’s blossoming career as an influencer — said the experience has been transformative for him.
“Adam has always been an entertainer. He loves to perform,” Emily McCormick-Libby said. “He’s become even happier, and more independent since this started. He’s found a passion that he’d never had before. He’s learning new things all the time. He’s more confident. It’s been huge for him.”
Libby’s route to TikTok stardom started in a less happy place, however. Like many people, Libby was feeling pretty bored, isolated and depressed as the pandemic dragged on.
In March 2021, his sister was trying to come up with ways to help him feel connected and have some fun. She thought making some TikTok videos with her brother showing people the meal prep they do each week might do the trick.
For the first six months or so, they posted one TikTok video per week, each getting a couple hundred views. After some initial videos, Sara McCormick-Libby, a videographer and photographer, began editing the videos, giving them more of a professional polish. But it wasn’t until a very special pizza night at the Libby residence last August that Chef Adam Libby suddenly took off like a rocket.
“We had gotten one of those Ooni pizza ovens for our deck last summer, so we thought, ‘Let’s have Adam make a pizza,’” Emily McCormick-Libby said. “By 7 o’clock that night, it went viral. He was getting 100 followers a minute, not even kidding. Overnight he had a couple hundred thousand followers. I didn’t sleep that night. It was insane.”
The ride hasn’t slowed down at all. By fall 2021, Libby had half a million followers, and in February, he crossed the one million mark, with two million followers in sight in the coming months.
He’s always trying new recipes, though grilling is his favorite cooking style. When asked what his favorite recipe he’s cooked so far is, Libby immediately answered smash burgers, the subject of a personal favorite video from 2021.
With his newfound fame have come opportunities neither Libby nor his family could have foreseen. They recently signed branding deals with Procter & Gamble for Dawn Dish Soap, and with PepsiCo for some videos that will appear at the start of the football season this fall. They sell Chef Adam T-shirts, hoodies and drinkware on his website, including ones emblazoned with Libby’s catchphrases, like “Holy crow, man!,” “To the oven!” and “To the smoker!”
Companies regularly send them products to try, from boxes of spices and marinades to a fancy new pizza oven from Ooni, makers of the pizza oven that helped shoot him to fame.
And just a few weeks ago, Libby and his sister and sister-in-law flew out to Las Vegas for the Cheer Choice Awards, which recognize social media creators who make positive content. Libby won in his category, for best cooking creator. He proudly showed off the trophy during an interview with the Bangor Daily News.
For the McCormick-Libbys, it has been an equally wild ride, as they’ve had to quickly learn how to manage a nationally popular social media account, while caring for Libby’s special needs, and raising their two young daughters, Piper and Poppy.
But for all three of them, Libby’s success is about much more than fame or branding deals. It’s about perseverance, and not being afraid to try something, even if you have challenges to face — disability or not.
“Don’t be afraid to try something. I think you will often be really surprised to see what people can accomplish if they just try,” Emily McCormick-Libby said. “Even if it takes them a little bit longer to figure out how to do it.”