Cooking Without Looking


Julie gets asked loads of questions about cooking as a blind person. Here are some of the most commonly asked questions, along with her answers.
What is cooking without looking?

Cooking without looking is a blind person cooking! It’s cooking without sight. Because our vision is so dominant people think it is virtually impossible to cook when you cannot see. However – they forget we have four other senses as well as persistence and determination to be independent. All of those things put together makes cooking without looking!

Don’t blind people have people to help them in the kitchen?

No. There is no government support for blind people that extends to having someone help them in the kitchen. Besides – another person in the kitchen usually gets in the way of a blind person. The best support a blind person can have in the kitchen is to learn the adaptive skills required to cook safely without sight.

Do you ever burn yourself?

Hell yes – probably on a weekly basis. I permanently have burn marks on my hands from knocking myself on the oven tray when I take something out the oven. Usually it’s from not quite working out where the oven tray is and going underneath the tray and hitting the top side of my hand. Proper gloves would ensure I didn’t get burnt so often but I’m just too slack to put gloves on. Another good source for burns is the hot kettle. If I pour a cup of tea just after the kettle has boiled the steam can direct itself very skilfully onto my hand! Ouch!

Do you ever miss the bowl?

Yes – that’s easy! Sometimes when I am baking it’s really easy to think you have touched the inside of the bowl when what you have touched is the outside of the bowl so you tip your cup of flour onto the bench rather than in the bowl. Oh dear. This is fine – what’s not is if you don’t realise you have done so and end up baking your cake without flour! Yuck!

How do you serve a meal for more than one person?

With a system. The system involves placing the plates in a pattern of four (like in a square) with Ron’s on the front left, Mine behind his on the left, then Sebastian’s on the top right followed by Zach’s underneath. This is also in alphabetical order of our initials J, R, S and Z. Then food is transferred from the saucepan or oven tray onto the four plates in the similar pattern, trying to place the meat in the same position on all the plates so you know where there is room left. I usually repeat this until the meal is served.

What type of food can blind people cook?

Well – that depends on the type of blind person or more importantly – what they like to eat! If equipped with the right skills and determination blind people can cook anything! The only thing I’ve really given up doing is icing chocolate éclairs! The icing goes everywhere. What a big mess!

How do you know when something is cooked?

Now – that’s when the other senses kick in. Primarily our sense of smell and touch. You can smell when a cake is cooked and then the knife test is employed to feel whether the middle is sticky (it’s not cooked) or clear (it’s cooked) Likewise chicken has a distinct smell when it is cooked. Plus the skin goes quite dry on the outside when it’s cooked. Of course timing is also very important when it comes to cooking without looking. Using suggested cooking times or prior knowledge really assists the cooking process greatly.

How do blind people find stuff in their kitchen?

Every blind person who cooks will know the layout and contents of their kitchen intimately! Because I am responsible for bringing all the food into the kitchen, I know where it is. All my baking containers are in a particular place on the shelf. So are the biscuit jars, along with the cereals, preserves, jams etc. In the fridge everything has its place, milk in the fridge door, butter on the top shelf, cheese in the dairy container etc. The biggest problem for a blind person in finding food is when it’s been moved or eaten!

How do you access recipes?

This will vary depending on a blind person’s preference. Braille, audio tapes or computers are used to transcribe recipes. I use either braille or the computer. I will get someone to read me a recipe and I’ll transcribe it into braille or store it on my computer. The beauty of braille is that I can take it into the kitchen. My computer is in my office so using that for recipes also requires me running back and forth from the kitchen to make sure I remember everything!

How do they you grocery shopping?

I go grocery shopping with my sister. I have done for sixteen years! The secret to grocery shopping blind is to go to the same supermarket each time and put the groceries away myself when I come home. Going to the same supermarket allows me to memorise what is in each aisle and therefore know what to remember as I approach it. I don’t use a shopping list – I store it all in my memory. When I get home I put the groceries away myself so I know where everything ends up. Because I am responsible for most of the cooking done in our house I need to know where everything is so I can retrieve it when I need it!

What’s your funniest cooking story?

There are loads of course but one that just happened recently involved cooking dinner for a friend of my partners. His wife was away so we invited him around for a meal. I cooked up a beef satay on rice with a salad and aioli dressing. I served the meals and carried them through to the dining room. Ushering them through to the dining room I asked them to “sit up while it’s hot” What I didn’t realise was that I hadn’t turned the lights on in the dining room so the place was in virtual darkness. I hadn’t noticed of course and the guys decided to play along with it so we sat in comfortable silence as we ate. At the end of the meal they burst into laughter and confessed they had eaten the whole meal in the dark! They enjoyed it so much we continued with baked apple dumplings for dessert in the dark!

“My therapist told me the way to achieve true inner peace was to finish what I start. So far today I finished two bags of m and m’s and a chocolate cake. I felt better already”

Dave Barry