by Chris Kuell
From the Editor: Chris Kuell is an articulate, reflective man who manages to capture what he feels, grows from integrating what comes from his head and his heart, and shares that through his writing. Here is his most recent offering:
Earlier this week I took a cab to a doctor’s appointment. We passed The Sesame Seed, a Middle Eastern restaurant around the corner from where I live, and the driver commented on how fat he’d be if he lived that close. We chatted about the great hummus, baba ganoush, kibbe, and wonderful fish dishes served at the restaurant. This led us to talk about our favorite local restaurants, how his son was a CIA (Culinary Institute of America) graduate, and some of our favorite dishes. When he told me his girlfriend wasn’t a vegetarian but would only eat seafood and chicken for protein, I described my original seafood chowder and lettuce-wrapped chicken recipes. He told me about a pork dish he makes when his girlfriend isn’t around, and then I described how, after many attempts, I’d finally figured out how to make an authentic shrimp pad Thai. Around this time we arrived at my appointment, and I wished him a good day.
All went well at the doctor, and when the cab I’d requested to go home arrived, it was the same driver who brought me there. We drove in silence for a few minutes. Then he said, somewhat uncomfortably, that he hoped I didn’t mind, but how, uh, could a guy with my—ummmm—handicap, cook sophisticated dishes?
I assured him that I didn’t mind his question, then answered that I believed I could cook anything, I’m experienced in the kitchen, and I have a really sharp knife. I’m totally blind, but I’m fairly certain his jaw dropped at that last one.
I told him that a few years ago I invested in a couple of really nice chef’s knives and a sharpening stone, and I keep the knives sharp enough to shave the hair off my arm. This is a trick an old lobsterman taught me when I was a kid.
While your average sighted person would probably feel very uncomfortable with the thought of a blind guy wielding something that could easily lop off a finger or two, a sharp knife makes slicing everything so much easier and faster. I love when the blade easily glides through a tomato rather than hacking and mashing it. And really—it’s no more dangerous than the various saws and power tools or deep fryer that I use regularly.
I’m extremely fond of my fingertips, so I am always careful when doing anything that could endanger them. Yes, I’ve received the occasional burn when a pan wasn’t on the stove exactly where I thought it was or when flipping something in hot oil and a little splatters, but those are the marks of a cook—reminders to always be aware of your surroundings and what you are doing.
Belief that I can do anything comes relatively easy to me. Call it confidence or arrogance or good parenting—whatever. All I know is that it is a key to successful endeavors. When I first lost my sight at thirty-five, I fell into a short-lived despondency. Then my wife convinced me to attend an NFB national convention. There I was with thousands of blind people who did whatever they wanted, and I knew that if they could do it, I could as well.
You need to either be shown how to do something or figure it out yourself, then practice. The experience you gain will not only improve your skills but your confidence in tackling other tasks. Nobody is good at cane travel right away. It takes a lot of practice, some getting lost, some figuring out what to do next, and some sighs of relief when you make it to your destination. Learning Braille takes practice. Learning how to navigate a computer with screen reading software takes practice, confronts you with some stressful moments when your computer freezes up, and requires the assistance of friends who can help you figure things out when you are at your wits end.
Cooking, or whatever you want to undertake, is similar. I’m always asking my friends who are good cooks how they do this or that. I pay attention to the details, to what herbs and spices they use, and what helpful tricks or techniques they know. Of course, the internet is an invaluable resource. Although I can’t see what people are doing in the millions of YouTube cooking videos out there, I can get enough information to make a go of it in my own kitchen. And while some of my meals don’t come out the way I wanted, I can usually figure out what I did wrong and make it better the next time.
I’ve won a local chili cook-off the last three years in a row, and the entries are anonymous, so I know people aren’t just voting for the blind guy. I’ve made great Italian food, Greek food, Asian food, Spanish food—anything I can think of. Last spring a woman at church asked me to cook Korean pork rolls (a dish I invented) for a special event, which I was happy to do.When I was a teenager, I used to help my Dad work on his old ’56 Ford. He had a special wrench that was bent at a certain angle for adjusting the carburetor. He told me that having the right tool makes every job easier. You can bang in a nail with a rock or a brick, but a hammer is the right tool for the job, which is why I like a really sharp knife for my cooking. When it comes to blindness, Braille, a long white cane, screen reading software, an accessible smart phone, and blind friends you can call on when you have questions—these are essential. With these tools, there isn’t anything you can’t accomplish.