My love language
I’m Debra Erickson, executive chef and founder of The Blind Kitchen. Food is my love language—it’s the way I most enjoy expressing my fondness and affection for family and friends. When vision loss threatened my ability to safely prepare meals for my loved ones, I was deeply saddened. I didn’t know how I could continue using sharp knives, hot ovens, or stovetops independently, nor could I continue using food preparation strategies that depend on sight. How could I independently read recipes, shop for groceries, and keep a clean, organized kitchen if I couldn’t see?
Learning to live with vision loss
When my declining vision began to impair my day-to-day functioning, I enrolled in vocational rehabilitation classes to support my new way of life. I learned many new skills including how to use a white cane, how to operate a computer without a monitor nor a mouse, and how to use a smartphone with a totally black screen. With the help of my instructor, now my dear friend, I also learned how to prepare meals while completely blindfolded, and I was amazed at the solutions that were available to me.
Learning to cook again
One day while in a meal preparation class, a light bulb went on: I could teach adults like myself to cook safely and independently! I realized I wanted to learn the art and science of the culinary world. Despite being functionally blind, I enrolled at McClaskey Culinary Institute at Clark College in Vancouver, Washington. As I progressed through the program, I loved elevating my cooking ability and focused on achieving consistent results every time.
I was held to the same standards as the other students, and I found ways to excel and succeed despite my vision impairment. (Read an article from The Columbian newspaper about my experience at Clark College.) I found tremendous joy in the creative process required to cook in the kitchen without vision. I learned tools and techniques that made me competitive with the other students. I knew I had found the right profession, and I am grateful to the instructor chefs who offered their patience and support as I achieved my educational goals.
My new culinary career
Four days after graduation, I was invited to become an instructor of meal preparation at my alma mater, the Oregon Commission for the Blind. With my culinary degree and my previous teaching experience, I was now teaching adults how to cook. I loved my new career.
In March of 2020, Covid 19 changed the way many agencies operated. Our students’ safety was the highest concern, therefore, in-person cooking classes were indefinitely suspended. That suspension ended up lasting a shocking 18 months!
The Blind Kitchen’s mission
During this time, I was inspired to find new ways to teach blind and vision-impaired people how to cook. I call this mission The Blind Kitchen, which offers tools and techniques that make cooking at home safe and enjoyable for blind and vision-impaired home cooks. My dearest hope is to help those whom I fondly call “returning cooks” learn new approaches for operating in their kitchens safely, efficiently, and confidently. I feel that if vision-impaired home cooks are provided with the right tools and information, they will have the same experience I did: pure joy at being able to provide family and friends with delicious and nutritious meals to nourish their bodies and their hearts.
I have since returned to in-person teaching—I love seeing my students’ confidence and spirits rise as they discover ways to cook safely whether they are blind from birth or have lost vision during their lives. Regardless of their position on the vision spectrum, each student has unique challenges that inspire me to develop new individual solutions. I take this new information back to The Blind Kitchen to help other people who face similar challenges. Every blind or vision-impaired person should have the opportunity to learn to cook with confidence and consistently delicious results without the messiness that may have driven them from their own kitchens.
I sincerely hope that The Blind Kitchen will bring “returning cooks” joy and confidence as they return to their kitchens to express their “food love language” to loved ones.
The Blind Kitchen offers adaptive tools, helpful strategies, and specialized knowledge to blind and vision-impaired people who want to cook safely, confidently, and independently. Our collections of kitchen tools are available online as are our short instructional videos. Shipping is always free! Everyone has a place at the table in The Blind Kitchen.