“When adults with ADHD realize they're blessed and gifted, they're going to be unstoppable.”
When he said this in a recent interview with ADDitudemag.com, Alexis Hernández, 40, was referring to the larger attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD) community, but it particularly rings true to his own experiences.
As TV’s new face of adult ADD/ADHD, chef Hernández is competing against 11 other contestants for the chance to land his own cooking show in season six of The Next Food Network Star (the two-hour premiere episode airs June 6, 2010, at 9 p.m. ET/PT). These foodies will face off in challenges involving the likes of culinary luminaries Wolfgang Puck, Paula Deen, and Rachael Ray -- with celebrity gourmand Bobby Flay passing judgment. The last chef standing will land his or her own six-episode show after the competition's series finale (airs August 15, 2010, at 9 p.m. ET/PT).
Recently-diagnosed Hernandez, who earned his culinary degree from Sullivan University’s National Center for Hospitality Studies, is up for the challenge. He caught up with ADDitudemag.com to talk about the show, his past and present career successes (and struggles), media myths about ADD/ADHD he hopes to dispel, and alternative treatments he’s picked up cooking on the job and working on his 65-acre family farm.
ADDitudemag.com: What media myths about ADD/ADHD do you hope to dispel by being on The Next Food Network Star?
Alexis Hernández: I hope to get across that an ADHD person can be extremely successful. I am a living example of that. Even before getting on The Next Food Network Star, I was successful in all of my ventures. I left corporate America to join culinary school because that was my passion. ADHD people aren't mentally [inferior to] anyone else. They are extremely creative. If you are able to manage it, understand what your strengths are, and not feel bad about your symptoms, it's not something horrible.
ADDitudemag.com: When were you diagnosed with ADD/ADHD?
Hernández: I was diagnosed at 38. Marty [my partner] would ask things like, “Can you go to the hardware store and get a hammer?” and I would return home with light bulbs, screwdrivers -- everything besides the one thing he had asked me to get. I had difficulty focusing. When I was in culinary school, I would have to study for a 10-question quiz for like five hours, which sounds ridiculous, but that's how it was. At the prompting of Marty, I went to see a doctor.
ADDitudemag.com: Have you noticed an improvement since seeking treatment?
Hernández: I am currently on Adderall XR. I take it every day. I don't really have any side effects. My days are a lot more organized and focused on the medication. On days when I don’t take medication, I don't feel any different -- I just don't feel as productive.
ADDitudemag.com: Growing up, did you ever suspect you might have ADD/ADHD or something else setting you apart from your peers?
Hernández: I would feel inadequate in school. I struggled with my self-image. I studied extra hard. But it wasn't like anyone from my school would say to my parents, “Oh, we think your child has difficulty focusing," or "He's very hyper.” My mother taught me coping mechanisms as a child to help me focus and she taught me to write things down. I had an area in my room that was for my schoolwork, so I knew if I looked in that area a school paper would be there.
My mother would say, “If it means you need to study 10 hours versus an hour to do well in school, you need to study 10 hours.” It was very frustrating, and I'd want to give up. Even until just recently, Marty would ask, “Why do you have to study all weekend?” But that’s what I had to do for culinary school -- study all weekend, and then on Monday mornings, I'd study again -- to get the grades that I wanted.
ADDitudemag.com: What have been some of your biggest career challenges, and how have you overcome them?
Hernández: Well, in my professional life, before I decided to go into [the food industry], I was a regional manager for a wireless company. I ran a large retail group. I had to keep all the meetings together, the documentation, the auditing. I realized that it’s okay to let someone else do the things I'm not good at. I said to myself, “I am good at these things: I'm extremely creative, I love problem-solving, but the ADD makes me boredom-intolerant. I needed to pass that kind of work on.” I had an administrative assistant who would tell me, “This meeting is on your calendar now.” I truly depended on her to be everything. I probably would have been fired without her help.
Hernández: I would say my best job to date was working with the wireless company -- T-Mobile. Every day was something different. Every day was a challenge. I had to come up with solutions to many different problems to be successful. There was always a new drama, a new metric you had to hit to get paid. I never got bored. A job that I know was not a good fit was in college, when I had to clean up the grounds on my university’s campus. I had to make sure the hallways were clean and the rooms were dusted. That didn't really provide an environment to be excited in. I was by myself. I got bored starting at 8 o’clock in the morning. It was sort of like drudgery. I’m not saying I don’t value that work, but for me, the way my head works, it didn't make me feel good about myself.
ADDituemag.com: Many in the community see ADD/ADHD as an invisible disability -- one that's seen as an excuse, rather than accepted as a real disease, one they fear they can't tell employers about. Has this been true for you?
Hernández: I self-diagnosed. I researched and realized, “I have these traits that ADD people have: I love to talk fast; I love to talk to everybody; I love to think 500,000 thoughts at once, while the person next to me can only think two thoughts.” After earning the respect of my peers and my bosses, I might mention, “I think I struggle with attention deficit disorder.” They would always be so surprised and say, “What? You do?” I’d say, “Yes, while you're talking, I want to say a whole bunch of things right at once. But I have to tell myself, ‘I know, Alexis, you think you're going to say something groundbreaking, but listen to what the person is saying.’” I want to thank my mother for always saying, “Don't talk out of turn. Listen to what they're saying so they feel valued.”
I have always felt that the way that my brain thinks, there's a beauty in it, and if I'm able to look at the beauty in it, I can live my life the way I want.
ADDitudemag.com: For many ADD/ADHD adults, living with the disorder affects family life and relationships -- has that been the case for you?
Hernández: Growing up, this kind of affected the relationship with my sister. I would get very emotionally upset and be very explosive. She didn't understand why. I don't ever want to say, "Oh, I have ADD, that's why I'm that way.” Now I use [my] ability to think very fast, to assess my feelings when I'm talking to my sister. I’ll ask myself, “Do you really want to be acting angry just because she doesn’t understand what you're saying? That’s your fault, not hers.” Then I try to better explain myself.
Hernández: Prior to taking Adderall, I started taking omega 3's. I was able to focus a little bit better, and not get as distracted. I must not have been taking the correct vitamin supplements before that. I try and stay away from sugar. I love drinking iced tea -- without sugar -- for the antioxidants. I’m not saying I don’t indulge -- I love shakes. I have noticed when I have a shake with all the sugar I get sped up in a bad way. I feel even worse than I did before. I love to have dark chocolate with any kind of red wine. I love, love, love to have dark chocolate, but, for the most part, I try and stay away from caffeine because of the effects it has: It keeps me up, and then, when I don't get a lot of sleep, it makes me more emotional the next day in a way that's not good. I try to be in bed by 10 p.m. and get eight to nine hours of sleep. I also like to do yoga and run.
ADDitudemag.com: What about working on your farm, do you feel that helps your ADD/ADHD?
Hernández: I love to go outside. I feel really whole. It helps me escape. When I’m taking care of something else, when it's dependent on me for its success and growth, I never get bored. I think if ADHD adults find something they really like, and they become really good at it, it's as if the ADHD takes a backseat.To learn more, visit Alexis Hernández's bio page and The Next Food Network Star's website.