"I don't give a damn for a man that can only spell a word one way." --Mark Twain
Mark Twain would have loved me: I can come up with an impressive assortment of ways to spell the same word -- most, if not all, considered by everyone but Twain to be wrong. As a dyslexic, in fact, I specialize in misspelling words (often by transposing letters). It's one of the things that convinced me years ago that I'd never achieve my dream of becoming a writer.
Twain, like me, was thought to be dyslexic. In fact, experts estimate that as much as 10-20% of the population has some form of dyslexia. Leonardo da Vinci was also thought to be dyslexic. So was Albert Einstein. CEOs ranging from Virgin's Richard Branson to Cisco's John Chambers to Charles Schwab have also come out about their dyslexia. Schwab, in fact, runs a very helpful online resource for parents of dyslexic kids at www.SchwabLearning.org, and Kinko's founder Paul Orfalea is writing a forthcoming book, SECRETS OF A DYSLEXIC CEO.
Dyslexia makes it tough to learn certain things in the same way that others are able to learn them and, to paraphrase Mark Twain, to remember that one particular way the world has decreed it best to spell a word.
Cooking saved me, in that it is a skill that relies more on the senses than on the ability to spell, and allowed me to learn that seeing things differently can be a plus (such as when coming up with a new dish -- or an innovative concept for a new book!). And since dyslexics tend to be very good at following routines, cooking is an area where we can readily excel.
I decided to talk publicly about my dyslexia in the hope of helping younger people realize that it doesn't have to hold them back from pursuing their own dreams. I was interviewed this past summer by Stacy Poulos for her inspirational Web site on dyslexics throughout history at www.dyslexia.tv, and have since popped up on other lists of "famous dyslexics." While two of Britain's leading chefs -- Jamie Oliver and Marco Pierre White -- have spoken out about their own struggles with dyslexia, so far I'm the only U.S. chef on those lists. However, I suspect there are many others out there (and have since learned that they include GlobalChefs.com's own founder Jeremy Emmerson, also Executive Chef at The Four Seasons Hotel in San Francisco) -- so if you are, or know of, another dyslexic chef, please let me know (at firstname.lastname@example.org). Dyslexic kids need our support, and I'd love to share word about all of us who are out there making things happen in the culinary world, as the field is of great interest to so many of them.
This fall, I'll have the privilege of being the keynote speaker in Belmont, California, at the Charles Armstrong School's "Success Week," where I've been invited to speak to hundreds of students and their parents about how I learned to live with the challenges of being dyslexic. As the School's usual speakers have been business executives (who have been a bit harder for young kids to relate to), I've been told that the kids are really looking forward to it. I look forward to reminding the students of their potential beyond the challenge of dyslexia.
I hope that other chefs will make it a point to speak out about how they learned to triumph over their own struggles with dyslexia. There is power in numbers -- and we dyslexic chefs need to "untie"!