THE ABCs of DEVOTION…

Chef Curtis Aikens found his life’s mission

by LIZ BALMASEDA Palm Beach Post Food Editor

Chef Curtis Aikens learned to cook decades before he learned to read. He learned from watching his mother, a woman blessed with Southern culinary talents, in the Georgia kitchen of his childhood.

Learning to cook gave him a career. But learning to read — at age 26 — gave him a mission.

“I feel God put me here for this purpose. I want to share my story, motivate people who have a reading problem and let them know not to be ashamed and embarrassed,” says Aikens, who will speak at the 20th Annual Love of Literacy Luncheon on March 11 in West Palm Beach.

Aikens, one of the original Food Network chefs, is now a cookbook author and motivational speaker at age 52. He has hosted four Food Network cooking shows, appeared regularly on ABC’s Good Morning America and dished on recipes and healthy cooking tips on Oprah, Entertainment Tonight, NBC’s Today Show and other high-profile shows. He’s written four cookbooks. He’s also helped corporate clients — Borden, General Mills, Green Giant and Hershey’s among them — with product messaging.

But he traces all his years of success as a chef to one night 25 years ago. It was the night he happened to see a literacy commercial flash on TV. The message was both devastating and liberating. He had lived his life hiding the central truth of his student years — he couldn’t read. He had dodged notice, distracting teachers and fellow students with his charismatic personality. He had squeaked by with the help of friends.

But he faced a dead end — until that night changed the course of his life.

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