For most people, when we crave pasta, we simply whip up a bowlful without much thought or effort. We reach for a box of penne in the grocery aisle; dice up fresh tomatoes in the kitchen; stir the noodles in boiling water until they are al dente, and measure spices so there’s a perfect balance of garlic and oregano. But what if you lost your sense of sight, broke your arm, suffered from chronic back pain, or were paralyzed from the waist down? You would wear a completely different chef hat.
Sadly, we often take the pleasure of cooking for granted. Others face a bigger challenge when it comes to making their favorite dish. EatNom wants to recognize all those who suffer from disabilities and honor them for not hanging up their spatulas. A particular chef’s story we find especially inspiring is that of Regina Mitchell.
Chef Mitchell was Making History in the Kitchen
Chef Mitchell was living her dream and excelling as a culinary chef. She knew she had a passion for cooking so she attended Seattle Culinary Academy and then was presented a British fellowship. Under the fellowship, she learned from some of the most influential chefs outside of the states. Mitchell’s career took off and she traveled cooking with prominent chefs and working for major businesses. She later found herself in Las Vegas, Nevada, working in her dream job as a butler for the highest guests at The SkyLofts MGM hotel and Casino and ARIA hotel at the city center. Nonetheless, Mitchell was excelling and nothing could stop her growth.
Then in 2011, she started experiencing slight eye pain and normal actions felt foreign. The symptoms worsened and one day she turned on the lights to no light. She had completely lost her vision and the sense that guided her career; she was diagnosed with Bilateral Pan-uveitis. Without the sense of sight, safely navigating and efficiently cooking in the kitchen seemed almost impossible. Like many who face a disability, Mitchell had her moment of confusion, uncertainty, and self-doubt. The most prominent question weighing heavily on her mind was, would she still be able to enjoy cooking and continue the profession she loved so much?
Chef Mitchell Didn’t Quit
Post diagnosis, Mitchell decided to attend the University of Nevada in Las Vegas and earned a Bachelor of Arts in psychology. Of course, in the beginning, managing without sight was troublesome, but she gradually familiarized herself with this new life. Even when she felt like giving up, Mitchell overcame the obstacles to the best of her ability and became stronger.
You Can Learn to Cook with Chef Mitchell
Mitchell gained the confidence to return to the kitchen. She’s had to relearn the art and practice particular skills, but her sense of smell and sound primarily help. We admire that instead of wallowing in her disability, Mitchell uses this new life as a light for others who are also visually impaired. People who might have thought cooking wasn’t possible can now attend Mitchell’s zoom classes through organizations such as the Nevada-based organization Blindconnect, Wisconsin Association of Parents of Blind Children, and the non-profit Hadley’s program “What’s Cooking.” Mitchell shares with her eager students how she navigates the kitchen and proves to them that cooking is still possible despite many conditions. Even with this new life, Mitchell continues to cook delicious meals and always with an enthusiasm which keeps her students hopeful. She uses the power of description, intuition, and touch to guide the lesson. She often resorts to flavor and suggests to her students how something should taste if they followed the recipe. Taste is truly powerful! These individuals might be visually impaired, but that just means their sense of touch, smell, sound, and taste are even stronger.
We are amazed by Mitchell’s journey and appreciate that she is including the visually impaired community in overcoming this obstacle. The EatNom team advocates for welcoming those with disabilities into the food industry and supporting making the food space accessible for all. No matter the disability, never forget you have the talent to contribute in the kitchen!