Blind Chef Cooks Up A First Thanks To NHS Cookery Lessons

In what is believed to be the first course of its kind in Scotland, a blind chef has started to offer cookery lessons to others with sight loss or people with a learning disability.  David Black, totally blind since childhood, says not only is he showing his students how to rustle up a variety of dishes from spaghetti and meatballs to courgette cake, but he is also giving them the confidence to cook their own food, eat healthily and stave off future health problems such as diabetes in later life.

David, the first person with sight loss to be qualified as an instructor by The Royal Environmental Health Institute of Scotland, works in the kitchen at the Forth Valley Sensory Centre in Camelon. He uses talking scales and thermometers, and has what he terms little ‘bumps’ on his cooker and microwave so he can operate the controls. “Everything has to have its place” he explained. “That is why I cannot work in a restaurant, it would be too hazardous. People walking up and down, bumping into folk, walking into an open cupboard door, or knocking over a pan of boiling water.

“I’m proud of myself when I make something. I want to get rid of the negative rubbish that people with special needs ‘can’t do’, and hear the words ‘can do.’   Some years ago I got depressed but cooking helped so that is why I wanted to teach other people to cook and give them confidence.”

David takes on two pupils at a time and can turn out lentil and leek and potato soups, chopping up his own vegetables with a chef’s knife. He’s a dab hand at curries and pasta dishes and bakes a mean scone. His signature dishes are sold in the cafe at the Centre.

One of his first students was Lee Russell, who attended a special school. “It was good. I really enjoyed it. I’m planning to start cooking at home because when my Mum and Dad are no longer here to look after me I am going to have to take care of myself. It has given me a new start, I feel really confident in myself now and it’s also cheaper and will save me money in the long run.”

The courses last for four to six weeks and run under the guidance of NHS Forth Valley Community Food Development Workers Sonya Kaila-Tierney and Peter Marriott.  They believe that introducing people with sensory  impairments to elementary cooking skills introduces them to good, fresh food, rather than fast food which they may tend to favour as they think it is easier to manage.

Sonya explained: “Rather than seeing a GP and presenting with high blood pressure or type 2 diabetes, we are trying to work with people to keep them healthier for longer. One of the side effects of diabetes is diabetic retinopathy so it’s better for us to encourage people to eat more healthily and avoid sight loss.”

Peter has been assessing David’s skills and says his enthusiasm is mind-blowing. He said: “If someone like David can do it, with the barrier he has, I can’t see why others can’t do it. It’s all about supporting people in taking responsibility for their own health.”