Ethan Davis had no choice in being an orphan at a young age, or in the ensuing years as he faced additional challenges growing up. 

But during his rocky journey through childhood, he made some mature choices — one of which could be his ticket to a bright future as a professional chef.

The 17-year-old Stephenville High School senior faced a brutal reality when his birth parents both died as a result of drug abuse — his mother when he was 5, and his father two years later. He said that he made up his mind long ago not to get involved with drugs or alcohol.

Ethan lived with his grandmother in Rockdale until he was 11 years old. Then he was adopted, but that situation brought young him a new set of unfortunate challenges to overcome. 

Three years ago, he was fortunate enough to find his way to Foster’s for Children in Stephenville. He attended school in Salado until he moved to Stephenville after his freshman year of high school.

Another remarkable turn in Ethan’s path in life came after a chance meeting with television comedy icon Ruth Buzzi and her husband, Kent Perkins, who live on Sunset Ranch north of Stephenville. While on campus of Foster’s Home for Children during an ice cream social, they learned that Ethan was an aspiring cook.

Kent said that when he first saw Ethan — who stands 6 feet, 3 inches — he speculated that he must be a basketball player. A woman from Foster’s Home told him, “Think again — he’s a chef.”

All I want for Christmas

After cooking got under his skin, Ethan was never the same.

Kent recalled Ethan telling him that for Christmas, he “only asked for utensils and cook books” even when he was younger.

He played football his seventh grade year, but isn’t interested in sports now. He’s involved in 4-H and Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) at SHS.

“I’m a bit of an old soul,” Ethan said. “I don’t do what other high school kids do. In FCCLA, I do culinary events. I do cook every single day. I do like to read, but mostly I’m just focused on cooking — pretty much my whole life.”

Sunset Ranch’s executive chef

Starting last summer, Ruth and Kent offered to have Ethan cook for them and they were thrilled with the results.

“Chef Ethan enhances our lifestyle at Sunset Ranch in a wonderful way,” Kent and Ruth stated in an email. “His culinary skills, work ethic, attitude and maturity are unexpected in a high school senior, and he serves us and our guests with distinctive class. Chef Ethan has a brilliant future and we’re proud ‘executive chef — Sunset Ranch’ is a part of his resume.”

When Kent and Ruth sat down along with Ethan recently for an interview in the SHS Library, Kent pointed out how unusual it is for someone so young to have a specific career in mind.

“I think it’s fantastic to see someone already focused, at this age,” Kent said.

Kent and Ruth have continued to hire him on a part-time basis to prepare food for various meals and dinner parties at the ranch. They had hired other chefs in the past, including Dallas resident Darren McGrady, who is widely known as “The Royal Chef.” McGrady is retired after 15 years working in Buckingham Palace as the personal chef to Queen Elizabeth II. 

Now Ruth and Kent are settled on Ethan as their own personal cook, from one to three times a week.

“We have a chef (Ethan) who pleases us just as much. He’s our first choice,” said Kent, who grew up on the west side of Fort Worth and graduated from Azle High School before moving to California and meeting Ruth. “He plans the meal, and talks it over with us. Ethan carries himself like a pro, and his skills and maturity and sense of responsibility are tremendous for a 17-year-old.”

Favorite dishes

Among their favorite dishes prepared by Ethan are lobster along with various recipes for hors d’oeuvres.

“He’s a wonderful lobster chef,” said Kent, a businessman and former actor who appeared in three TV sitcoms. “He comes up with original recipes for hors d’oeuvres, and side dishes I’ve never seen before. He has a tremendous reserve of ideas on the subject. He’s fantastic with steaks and meat dishes.”

Ruth, who was raised in Wequetequok, Connecticut — lobster fishing country — cherishes those dishes in particular along with Ethan’s roast beef.

“I love his roast beef. It’s better than my mother had,” said Ruth, who won a Golden Globe Award and received five Emmy nominations for her comedic television work on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In from 1968-1973. “We have a good time together,” Ruth said of Ethan.

“I’m really grateful to have the opportunity to cook for them,” Ethan said. “It’s opened up a lot of doors, and has given me a lot of confidence in my art.”

Among the other notable names Ethan has met as a result of his cooking include famous TV chef Gordon Ramsey and Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller of Stephenville.

Early culinary interest

Ethan recalled first taking a special interest in the idea of cooking food when he was only 5 years old.

“At a real young age, I started to realize my parents were not the best. I started to cook to exit the trauma I was experiencing with my birth family,” he said. “Grandma’s recipes were the way out of it. Me and my dad made cupcakes for school. That solidified that I wanted to be in the food world.”

Rather than spending his spare time watching TV shows for kids, Ethan would tune in to the Food Network and the Food Channel.

Ethan, who will turn 18 in early March and graduate from SHS in May, plans to attend Texas State Technical College to earn a degree in culinary arts. From there, he aims to see his life’s trajectory continue on its upward trend.

“My first goal is to get a job at a high-end restaurant — (in) any of the big cities in Texas or California. I want to have a creative menu,” Ethan said. “The end goal is to open my own restaurants, as owner and chef.”

Looking back on the life he emerged from and forward to the road ahead, Ethan said, “Everyone should be able to forgive. A lot of happy endings and a lot of bad endings happen around dinners. You just have to be the deciding factor.”