Dyslexia a struggle for successful chef

ADVOCATE: Food Truck chef Michael Van de Elzen has struggled with mild dyslexia all his life.
LAWRENCE SMITH/Fairfax NZ

ADVOCATE: Food Truck chef Michael Van de Elzen has struggled with mild dyslexia all his life.

Dyslexia has funny ways of popping up on you. For chef Michael Van de Elzen it recently was in the form of tweet.

"Boom! I'll cook! Richie can scum!" he wrote.

"I meant scrum."

Van de Elzen is making his struggle with dyslexia public to support Dyslexia Advocacy Week, which begins next Sunday.

The week, run by the Dyslexia Foundation of New Zealand, focuses on improving dyslexic students' experiences in the classroom and helping dyslexic youth in courts.

At school, reading and writing was a struggle for Van de Elzen, who had to sacrifice biking after school for classes in which he learned to read Peter Pan.

He initially thought it was because he came from a Dutch-speaking household - his parents moved to New Zealand in 1963 - but soon realised his sisters were talented at reading and writing.

"It started to really come out when we were filming Food Truck. I got pulled up on certain words I couldn't pronounce - like Wisconsin - stuff I've said wrong all my life."

The Dyslexia Foundation reports an estimated 10 per cent of Kiwis suffer from the disorder, which can affect motor skills, cognitive ability, audio and visual perception and memory and concentration. In worst-case scenarios, it can, if left untreated, lead to depression and suicide.

But many dyslexics excel in fields such as engineering, design and building. Famous dyslexics include Leonardo da Vinci, Picasso and Agatha Christie.

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Van de Elzen, himself, has a busy life, and owns multiple businesses. He says he tackles his dyslexia by surrounding himself with positive people, such as his wife - "she's been my spellcheck for 10 years".

"I've learnt to slow down my thoughts and do other things - I create dishes, flavours, ideas. Sometimes it adds a bit of humour. Through all the TV I've done I can relate to kids really well, and that's not because I'm on the same level in terms of reading and writing - I've learnt a lot - but sometimes I feel their pain."

While Van de Elzen is no longer involved with Food Truck, his passion for getting Kiwis to eat more heathy food remains a mission for him.

He has recently opened new restaurant Boy and Bird on Auckland's Ponsonby Rd.

Dyslexia Awareness week runs from 16 to 22 March.

 - Sunday Star Times

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