Culinary Prodigy Emerson Leonaitis Whisks Up a Life In the Kitchen


Sara Beth Cimowsky

Junior Emerson Leonaitis has taken her cooking skills to a whole new level.

Avid TV watcher, reading enthusiast and culinary prodigy are just a few words that one might use to describe junior Emerson Leonaitis. From getting her homework done at school to watching about 40 shows at once, saying Leonaitis knows how to manage her time is an understatement.

She’s a woman of many passions but foremost she cites cooking as the hobby she’s most devoted to. Her mother and grandmother taught her to cook when she was little, and she has been surrounded with cooking her whole life. “It’s something very close to my heart since it’s so connected to my family,” she said.

If you ask most high school students, they would say that free time is hard to come by, especially for a student in the IB program like Leonaitis. But somehow she manages to free her schedule up for the things she enjoys. She said she’s watching about 40 different TV shows right now, reads two to three books a week, and on top of all that, she still has time to make dinner for her family every night. On top of all that activity, she activates her entrepreneurial side by using her culinary skills to run a catering business of her own.

At age 14, she started her company “I’d Eat That Catering.” Beyond her own side business, she has worked at Henri’s Bakery, Souper Jenny and Umi. In the course of her work she met the owner of Henri’s who were impressed with her work. In another setting she met a chef at Umi, a highly rated Japanese and sushi restaurant in Buckhead. The chef recruited her to work at the prestigious restaurant as a sous pastry chef. “Umi was probably the most exciting place I have worked. Being able to work alongside two extremely talented chefs was just a dream come true,” she said. “It’s really rare for someone to be able to work with people as talented as they are, and the fact that I’m only 17 makes it that much cooler to me.”

In a high school scene where many are challenged to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, it’s noteworthy that Leonaitis can cook at an extensive level and can make cakes. Her biggest feat in the cake-making category was baking a cake for the owner of Orkin, the Atlanta-based pest control company. To match the business category she made a vanilla pudding cake in the shape of a cockroach. “It was priceless seeing the looks on their faces when they cut it open,” she said.

Despite her impressive track record in kitchens, Leonaitis said she does not want to do anything in the culinary field for her career. “They have bad hours, don’t make good money, and chefs always get hurt,” she said.

She said wants to pursue a career as a writer and at present has no plans to attend college. But even if she picks up the pen to write for a living, she said she’s never put down spatula, whisk or other tools of the cooking trade. Cooking is a part of who she is and always will be.