Cooking without looking

excerpted image from Hanni and Beth, Safe & Sound

I can bake a mean loaf of bread. Just don't ask me to make dinner.

I was a bad cook when I could see. That didn’t change when I lost my sight. I still can’t cook, but now, I have an excuse.

Or at least I did have an excuse, until that story about Laura Martinez came out in the Chicago Tribune last month. Martinez is 25 years old and attending the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu culinary program at the Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago. And, oh yeah, she just happens to be blind.

“I’d never worked with a blind student before,” said Karine Bravais-Slyman, who heads the institute’s general education department, “but Laura did incredibly well in the kitchen. She showed many students that even with this type of impairment, she could still do better than students who have their sight.”

Okay. I admit it. It’s not lack of sight that keeps me from being a good cook. It’s lack of talent.

I usually champion blind people who use resourcefulness to do things average people do with their eyes, but I kept this story quiet. I didn’t brag about this chef to my friends, I didn’t blog about her here. I was hoping to keep the “blind people can’t cook” myth alive. But then the talented chef turned up in yet another news story this week, and my “in box” overflowed with messages from friends forwarding it my way. Seems renowned Chicago chef Charlie Trotter heard about Laura Martinez, and he was so intrigued that he visited her at the Chicago Lighthouse for the Blind, where she works in the cafeteria kitchen.

“I was watching her work and saw how she handled things with her hands, touching for temperature and doneness, and I ate her food and it was quite delicious. We got to talking and she told me about her dreams and I said, ‘What would you think about working at Charlie Trotter’s?’”

You read that right. Charlie Trotter asked her to work for him. He’s also offered to help with her tuition. Laura Martinez will go to Charlie Trotter’s soon for a trial date to make sure she’s comfortable in the restaurant’s kitchen.

“He asked if I’d like to come work for him. I said, ‘Yes, that would be an honor for me,’” Martinez said. “I didn’t expect it at all. He’s very nice, he’s very human.

“And,” she said, sheepishly, “he said he liked my cooking.”

I. Am. So. Busted.

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18 Responses to “Cooking without looking”


  1. 1 Siobhan Senier February 1, 2010 at 8:44 am

    You are living my DREAM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. 2 Siobhan Senier February 1, 2010 at 8:47 am

    OK, I posted that before reading the whole essay–I saw the title and the picture (which I now realize is from your book, and not a photo) and figured YOU were cooking with Trotter. But here’s your chance, Beth: maybe Rick Bayless will take you on! You’re not a bad cook–you bake a mean challah. And then of course there was the famous peanut-butter-and-ragu sandwich you made for Gus, such a culinary innovation. FINKE TAKES TOPOLOBAMPO BY STORM! Let’s see it!

  3. 3 bethfinke February 1, 2010 at 9:12 am

    Oh, poor Gus!

  4. 4 Bob February 1, 2010 at 1:30 pm

    Isn’t “plate presentation” a big deal at Charlie Trotter’s? If you’re blind, I wonder how you fix a plate without touching the food.

  5. 5 Cheryl February 1, 2010 at 1:46 pm

    You weren’t a very good driver before you became blind either but you did take that Mustang for a ride a while back. Let’s let Ms Martinez be the great chef and you can apply for a job as Mr. Trotter’s driver.

  6. 6 Cam February 1, 2010 at 1:52 pm

    Bob, that’s what sous-chefs are for…that and cleaning up, which is why I need one.

    Great post Beth.

  7. 7 Carey February 1, 2010 at 2:21 pm

    Beth,

    I remember you made a mean tuna salad from leftover tuna steak when I visited you in OBX. I still think about that recipe (not that I try to cook, either!)

  8. 8 bethfinke February 1, 2010 at 4:32 pm

    Cheryl, I love the analogy of my bad driving and my bad cooking, that’s just about right! Back when I could see I could cook well enough to feed myself, and I could drive well enough to get around without smashing into anything along the way.
    Well, there was that one time I backed Flo’s car in to the house, but hey, accidents happen.

  9. 9 bethfinke February 1, 2010 at 4:35 pm

    Cam, thanks for answering that one. I suppose one *does* learn “plate presentation” in chef school, but I would think that if they didn’t require Laura Martinez to take that class, it’d qualify as a reasonable accomodation.

  10. 10 bethfinke February 1, 2010 at 4:37 pm

    Carey, I appreciate the compliment, but it’s pretty hard to screw up a tuna salad when you live at the ocean and are using tuna caught that very day!

  11. 11 Margo Dill February 1, 2010 at 5:28 pm

    This story is amazing and motivational, and just goes to show you what can happen if you work hard at any craft. I’m glad you decided to share it. :)

  12. 12 Marilee February 2, 2010 at 7:41 pm

    I can’t believe that you were hiding this story about talented blind chef! Ok maybe I can believe it- You are so busted! But just remember you are the talented baker of bread!!

  13. 13 bethfinke February 2, 2010 at 7:55 pm

    It’s true. I’m busted. Maybe if the economy has turned around by the next time you visit, we can head over to Charlie Trotter’s and check this chef out. Otherwise, there’s always Blackie’s!

  14. 14 tinywolfwrites February 6, 2010 at 2:47 pm

    Beth,
    You recently commented on my blog, http://www.christinewolf.wordpress.com, so I checked your blog out…and I’m floored. As a brand new blogger, I’m learning my way around this amazing community of information sharing. I hardly scratched the surface of your blog (but I plan to read its entirety a.s.a.p.), and I’m moved and inspired by the content, the humor, the subject matter, the candor, and the consistency of your blogging. I hope we stay in close contact, because after reading your blog, I’m honored that you found and commented on my humble beginnings. By the way, I really like wordpress. I’ve never tried to blog on any other platform, but I trust the people I know who use wordpress. Glad to know you like it, too. Talk to you soon! Christine Wolf

  15. 15 becky February 7, 2010 at 10:39 pm

    Thanks – I needed to read this! I am stumbling through this next adjustment of blindness and love your blog, your humor, your posts/links, etc.

  16. 16 Beth Finke February 8, 2010 at 1:47 pm

    Christine, Thanks for your VERY kind words, I’m tickled you like my blog, it’s a labor of love that I’ve been working at for a while now – over two years! It’s particularly gratifying when people like Becky, the woman who commented above, learns about it somehow and finds my posts encouraging. What could feel better than that?! Thank you both for leaving comments, you make me feel good!

  17. 17 Peter Charalambos August 18, 2010 at 6:14 pm

    We heard of this a while back and often use it to motivate those who say….I don’t think I can do it…..it’s just too hard.

    Thanks for showing it.

    Peter

  18. 18 bethfinke August 18, 2010 at 9:11 pm

    You’re welcome. If you ever need a guinea pig to come over and test your cooking, let me know — !


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