Blind student beating the odds by studying culinary arts

Jim Reed is legally blind, but that didn't stop him from following his dream. He is set to graduate from SLCC Culinary Institute. While attending a training center for blind adults Jim was given free run of a fully stocked kitchen and took advantage of it. Upon graduating from that center, he went to the nicest restaurant in town and asked for a job. The restaurant was a somewhat upscale Cajun-inspired steak and seafood place. The chef hired Jim on the spot as a prep cook, but he was eventually given bigger jobs. 
 
"As a chef, it is the blending of precision, fundamental techniques, and creativity that speaks to me the most. There is a right way to do everything and a precise moment where perfection is achieved; even 1 second on either side of that moment can result in the loss of that perfection. As a blind person, the tactile and experiential nature of preparing and eating food lends itself to being one of the only forms of art where I don't feel at a disadvantage as a creator and where I don't feel like I am losing a significant element as a consumer of the art," he explained. 
 
He says his biggest barrier to employment is discrimination; there are not many chefs willing to let a blind person into their kitchen in a commercial kitchen where he has no control over inventory and space. Jim's biggest challenge is in finding ingredients/equipment. He says attending the culinary institute at SLCC has been a good experience for him. 
 
"The chefs and others have all been fantastic to work with. Culinary school is something I have wanted to do my whole life, but never really wanted to take that leap as a blind person. Now, I am in a time and place in my life where I can pursue that goal while also working full time. Additionally, the tuition at SLCC is significantly cheaper than the big-name schools," he shared.
 


Cold avocado soup

Serves 12

·        2 medium poblano chile

·        2 small white onion, sliced into 1/4 -inch-thick rings

·        5 cups lower-salt chicken broth; more as needed

·        4  medium firm-ripe avocados (6 to 7 oz. each), pitted, peeled, and cut into large chunks

·        1 cup chopped fresh cilantro

·        ¼ cup  chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

·        4  tsp. chopped fresh marjoram or oregano (optional)

·        ½ cup fresh lime juice (from 4  medium limes)

·        2 tsp. ground cumin

·        1 tsp. ground coriander

·        Kosher salt

·        1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt

·        2 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil

·        1 cup pepitas (pumpkin seeds)  (or sunflower seeds  or almonds)

·        ¼  tsp. pure New Mexico chile powder; more for serving

Directions

On a gas stove, turn a burner to high and set the poblano directly over the flame, turning it with tongs, until completely charred, 5 to 8 minutes. Alternatively, on an electric stove, heat the broiler on high and char the poblano on all sides on a baking sheet placed directly under the broiler. Put the poblano in a bowl, cover, and set aside to steam and loosen the skin. When cool enough to handle, peel, seed, and cut the poblano into 1/4 -inch dice.

Heat an 11- to 12-inch cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat, add the onion and cook, turning a few times, until soft and browned in places, about 5 minutes.

In a blender, purée until smooth all but 1 Tbs. of the poblano, the onion, broth, avocado, cilantro, parsley, marjoram or oregano (if using), 2 Tbs. of the lime juice, cumin, coriander, and 1 tsp. salt. Blend in the yogurt. Season to taste with more salt. Chill well.

Heat the oil in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat. Add the pepitas and cook until they begin to pop and color a bit, about 3 minutes. Add the remaining 2 Tbs. lime juice, the chile powder, and 1/8 tsp. salt and stir until the juice has evaporated, leaving a film on the pan.

Season the soup to taste with salt and thin with broth if necessary. Divide among 6 cups or small bowls and garnish with the pepitas, the remaining poblano, and a few pinches of chile powder. Adjust final seasoning when the soup is cold as taste perceptions change based on the temperature of food.

 

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