Media

Cooking With Disabilities: An Exercise In Creative Problem Solving

See the original story on National Public Radio’s website

Cooking Without Looking: A Cooking Show with Blind and Visually Impaired Hosts

See the original story on American Foundation for the Blind’s website

Title: Cooking without Looking —A short series about a live cooking show and its blind and visually impaired hosts and chef. A lot of fun and scrumptious learning lie ahead. Let’s get started! We know you’re going to enjoy this interesting team of culinary experts.

Intro: Dear Readers, We have had an exceptionally great year of Our Stories, stories about successful people who are blind or visually impaired doing the jobs and other things they love. This time we are veering off our normal path just a little to present you with a short series about some very interesting folks in Florida who do a live TV show called “Cooking without Looking”. The series will introduce you to Renee Rentmeester, the founder, creator and producer of the program, as well as Allen Preston and Annette Watkins, the amiable hosts of the show. We will also introduce you to Don White, the chef of the program. You will learn many fun and interesting things from this team and even get a few holiday tips and recipes along with links to videos of the show.

CareerConnect: Renee, thank you for talking with us about this wonderful program. Our first question for you is where did you come up with the idea of doing a program like this?

Renee: I came up with the idea for “Cooking without Looking” on January 5, 2001 in Miami. I had worked in TV since I was 17 years old, and over the years had sat on many boards; at one point, six at one time!

I wanted to create a personal way of giving back. I wanted it to be something that helped everyone, no matter what religion, race, age, economic status, etc. After much research I found that blindness was my cause. TV was the tool which I chose because it was what I know best, and it creates large scale change and promotes understanding of a group of people which, many don’t really know a lot about.

Since I was not blind and no one in my family or friend circles where blind, I had more research to do so I turned to blind listservs online which were primarily made up of blind people. I discovered what many of the issues were by reading their comments. I also found that the cooking listservs for the blind were the most popular. At that point, I found blind chef(s) in the area, a PBS station to air the piece and, the rest is history.

CareerConnect: Where did you find your talented staff?

Each one is a special story.

I met Allen Preston, one of our two hosts, at a Braille Club meeting in West Palm Beach, where he was president of the club at the time.

Annette Watkins was a pharmaceutical sales executive when we met. Her friend Celia Chacon, a blind caterer (who passed away last year), told me about her, and we put her on the show as co-host. Annette was also a friend of our first sponsor, John Palmer at Magnifying America.

Our chef, Don White, is a friend of a friend who heard about us and sought us out. He was a blind restaurant owner and classically trained professional chef.

Now we’re all together, and we have a lot of laughs through the whole process of creating and producing the shows, as well as other things we get into to promote opportunities for people who are blind or visually impaired.

Do you or your staff do speaking engagements or other blindness advocacy activities? Examples?

Oh yes, we are all advocates and visit schools and speak to students as well as business groups and other non-profits’ functions.

Also, we are featured at area wine and food festivals and perform cooking demonstrations. We’re appearing November 15 at the Boca Raton Wine and Food Festival. We often perform cooking demonstrations at Macy’s as well.

CareerConnect: Was it a hard sell to find funding? Who helped support this idea and how can advertisers or others contribute?

It was a difficult sell because it sort of sounds counter intuitive, a TV show with blind people. But, through research, I found that Blind people enjoy TV 2 percent more than sighted people because it’s a large source of entertainment when they are not able to drive.

Another reason funding was difficult is that many people thought it was ONLY for the blind; some still do. But that’s incorrect. It’s a show of inclusion, one that’s a cooking show which happens to feature people who are blind doing the cooking and the hosting. Everyone gets great recipes, and learn amazing cooking tips. But, on top of that, we learn about eye care health, and hopeful research which can help all of us with our vision.

John Palmer of Magnifying America gave us our first year of advertising funds (13 shows); and Dr. Marc Gannon of the Low Vision Institute gave us seed money for our pilot program. He also appears on many of our shows during our ‘Macular Moment’ segment.

We are currently looking for advertisers for 20 shows which we will air on the Cooking Channel (58 Million homes) nationally. The advertising funds not only cover our production costs but also go to our Vision World Foundation which we use to provide services for folks who are blind/visually impaired/low vision. This is the only TV show where, when you advertise, you are actually doing good for someone while you market your product or service.

CareerConnect: Anything else you’d like to share about where you’ve been and where you are going?

Renee: Yes. We have created a “Cooking Without Looking” summer bootcamp for blind/visually impaired people who want to work professionally in the kitchen or even open their own catering business. It’s at Florida International University School of Hospitality, and participants receive a certificate of completion.

Also, we are starting entrepreneurship courses for blind/visually impaired people who want to start their own businesses. We are doing that with FIU as well.

This year we started a dining in the dark fundraiser called, “Lights in the Night” where we honor people who provide blindness care in other organizations. We believe that those of us who work with people who are blind/visually impaired should work together because we’re all here for the same purpose, and our services are varied and complementary.

The Contact: Cooking without Looking; Phone Number: 305.200.9104