Three years ago chef Ian Edwards lost his sight and has been unable to work in a commercial kitchen since.
Devastated, he had to rethink what he wanted to do with his life. And so Edwards improvised. He is establishing a commercial training facility in Newcastle to help vision-impaired people pursue culinary careers. The project will be known as The Blind Chef and also involves opening a cafe, corporate catering and making and selling products.
His quest has just received a major financial boost. Edwards is being awarded the 2018 Special Scholarship Award by the Trevor Drayton Committee at Carrington Place on March 11 where the two Trevor Drayton TAFE Scholarship winners will be named. The luncheon marks the 10th anniversary of Drayton’s untimely death.
Edwards was born in Dungog and moved to Newcastle in 1985 where he took a job as a kitchenhand at The Alcron restaurant on Church Street. Six weeks later the hard worker was offered a chef’s apprenticeship. He went on to work at The Ambassador Restaurant, Noah’s on the Beach, the South Steyne floating restaurant, Café Continental and Ducks Crossing.
In 2015, though, his life changed forever. A detached retina in one eye led to complications in both eyes and he became blind. Unable to read order dockets in a busy kitchen, he had no choice but to quit.
“One day I started talking to a woman who teaches home economics to vision-impaired kids. The sad thing is, they have got nowhere to go when school finishes. That’s where I come into it. I can offer them an apprenticeship or a traineeship and put them on a wage,” he said. “I don’t believe in tokenism.”
Edwards spoke at a Retina Australia event recently and auctioned himself off to cook dinner at someone’s home, raising $1300 in the process. He hopes to take part again.
His love of cooking was nurtured by his mother, a talented “country-style cook” who worked at a Dungog hotel: “She cooked all her life and I was always there, watching and learning.”
Keep an eye out for The Blind Chef at markets and pop-up events – and on the television, too. He recently participated in a business program that might become a series. Watch this space.