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Seasoned Chef Still Perfecting His Recipe for Success

Once out of school, a dyslexic teen gained the confidence and motivation to reach his career goals.

By Linda Broatch, M.A.

As the sous chef at a five-star hotel in Florida, Jeremy Emmerson once faced a situation so terrifying that he briefly imagined abandoning the career he loved. What pushed this accomplished man to the edge? He was asked, without warning, to read aloud during a meeting of the hotel's 30-plus department heads.

Jeremy has dyslexia. And he did what many dyslexic adults do in such situations, no matter how confident they usually are - he panicked. "I was more fearful than I was when I was a kid," Jeremy recalls, "because I had a lot more on the table at that point. I considered just flat out saying, 'I'm sorry; I can't do this. I don't want to read aloud.'" Fortunately, his resourcefulness saved the day, or, as he puts it: "I just did my usual - somehow managed to bluff my way through it."

By any standard, Jeremy is highly successful. Executive chef at San Francisco's Four Seasons Hotel since 2003, he manages a staff of 50 people who provide $11 million in food services a year. At a single catered event, he and his team can feed as many as 1,000 people! He came to San Francisco after working at Four Seasons-affiliated hotels in London, Chicago, and Florida. In addition to his "day job," he regularly donates his talents to community activities, and works on the web-based magazine, which he founded.

Early challenges and inspirations

Raised in England in the 1970s and '80s, Jeremy spent his elementary and secondary school years struggling to learn, not aware that he had a learning disability. Picking up on cues from the adults around him, he assumed that he must be lazy or stupid. Dyslexia often runs in families, and both of Jeremy's brothers are dyslexic. He and his older brother, Julian, were out of high school when their little brother, Jamie, who is 11 years younger than Jeremy, was identified with dyslexia. That's when the older siblings realized they also had the disorder. By then, Julian had been "asked to leave school" and was on to bigger and better things. He's now a software engineer for Intel, and a self-taught mechanic and craftsperson. And Jeremy, having decided that academics were definitely not for him, had begun his training as a chef.

Jeremy's career path was set partly by chance and partly by choice. At age 13, when his best friend announced at a barbecue that he was going to become a chef, Jeremy immediately latched on to the idea: "I thought, 'What am I going to do with my life?' It wasn't going to be academics. And I wasn't going to work on the factory floor; I'd worked for my dad on weekends in his factory and it was just sinfully boring. Over the next three years before I graduated from high school, the chef idea sounded better and better — cooking was also becoming a little more hip at that time."


Who inspires you?

  • Jamie Oliver (Britain's "Naked Chef") because he was successful when he was young and has put that privilege to great use
  • My dad, for his determination — he never, never gave up
  • People who have overcome adversity
  • People who are true to themselves
  • People who are happy and know how to have fun

Career in sight

Once Jeremy started planning for life beyond high school, his focus and energy took a turn for the better. Instead of just "scraping by," he worked harder at his academic subjects, researched local culinary schools, and ultimately applied to Westminster Catering College in London. He'd been warned that admission to the catering college was very competitive. But he got an interview, and it went so well that they offered him admission on the spot.

From that point, success began to build on success. In the six months between high school graduation and entering the catering college, he got a job at a "really good" restaurant near his family's home. For the first time in his life, his "teachers" were excited about his goals and happy to teach him all aspects of their work. "I was 16 years old and really full of myself," Jeremy says. "And the guys that worked at the restaurant thought it was fun to have someone around who was so young and wanted to be a chef. They taught me a lot in those six months — I worked as a waiter, in washing up, and sometimes in the kitchen."

That introduction laid the groundwork for Jeremy to excel at college - and to achieve a level of self-confidence he hadn't experienced before. "Because of the restaurant experience, "Jeremy recalls, "when I went to cooking school, it wasn't foreign; I knew exactly what was going on. I did really well that first year, and that's where I found my confidence. I felt a little bit special — a wee bit cheeky."

Linda Broatch has worked for many years in nonprofit organizations that serve the health and education needs of children. She has an M.A. in education, with a focus in child development.