The Baking Blind mission has always been to showcase the work ambitions and aspirations, competences, and capabilities of people with disabilities.
Too often we face the fears of employers. They are fearful of saying the wrong thing, embarrassing themselves or the disabled person; fearful that an employee with impairments brings extra risk or cost; fearful that treating a disabled person differently will upset the rest of the team.
My goal was to use the mass appeal of food and cooking as the medium to showcase others like me who can still do nearly anything with just a bit of help and encouragement. Hence, it was a delight to be sharing my ideas and experiences with members of the Worshipful Company of Cooks of London this week. This is one of the ancient Livery Companies in the City of London, founded by Royal Charter in 1482.
Demonstrating the importance of food in our culture, society and traditions, Mark Grove, the Cook and the Butler delivered an exceptional lunch, designed by the first woman to hold the top role of Master, Mrs Virginia Bond. Her special sunflower decorations, matching table linen and gift-wrapped seeds brought summer to the event and, more seriously, were a timely reminder of Ukraine.
Chilled gazpacho soup was the perfect starter for a very hot summer day (and here’s my own easy version). My portion arrived in a simple mug: far easier to consume than the “soup-in-a-cottage-loaf that everyone else received. Often there are big advantages to being blind. Some elements of the menu would be daunting for me to attempt (tempura battered hake or tiny white chocolate cups for the crème brulee) but much I could attempt: the lobster and prawn risotto; the courgette flower stuffed with mousse before steaming; the raspberry sorbet. There were lots of ideas within the reach of a home-cook although the numbers and twiddly artistic bits would floor most of us.
This was a gathering of many of the great and good of different Livery companies: current and past Masters, representing many of the ancient skilled trades of the City. Amidst them were several former Royal Navy officers I’d known decades ago. All of us were members of the “White Mafia”, the Pussers of the Supply and Secretariat branch (now Logistics which has undertones of delivery drivers rather than the power-behind-the-throne of past days).
My role was to sing for my lunch with a strict 7 minute time limit. I did my best to explain the Baking Blind mission, my own adventures and the impressive chefs and cooks captured in the book. My final challenge to these significant influencers was to use the mass media appeal of cooking, their contacts, talents and skills to change attitudes and give disabled people a chance. The Cooks Company have already dipped a toe in the water: their Clink initiative gives catering training to Brixton prisoners and over 70% get jobs on release. With some 50% of prisoners having disabilities, they will already be making a difference.
The Livery Companies have a superb opportunity to be the leaders in this mission and achieve even more change.
(I was surprised that all the ex-military men had their previous ranks acknowledged but not mine!)