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Blind chef teaches her skills and love of cooking to others with visual impairments

Chef Debra Erickson launched 'The Blind Kitchen' to make space for cooks and bakers with vision loss. She hopes it becomes a community of support.

OREGON CITY, Ore. — Inside the brick exterior of Willamette Falls Studios in Oregon City is where the magic happens. The community media center is the site of Chef Debra Erickson’s cooking program "The Blind Kitchen."

“I love making chicken marsala, I like making shepherd's pie. I do a really good pork wellington. I love making mashed potatoes,” said Erickson. “If you want to know the secret to mashed potatoes, you just keep adding butter until you just can't stand it anymore.”

Chef Erickson learned to cook with her mom. “I had no idea, how do you teach cooking? You just put it in the oven and it works like magic.”

After culinary school, she found a love for teaching. The sharp knives and hot surfaces of a kitchen can be intimidating for anyone, but what about someone experiencing vision loss?

Credit: Jon Goodwin, KGW

“I teach blind and visually impaired adults how to cook and that truly is my passion,” she said.

Her new mission is The Blind Kitchen, recently launched as a place where everyone has a seat at the table. Adaptive kitchen tools and cooking techniques give people with visual impairments a place to learn and grow their skills.

Apps on Chef Erickson’s phone can read items from the pantry or fridge. Ladle-shaped measuring cups have bumps on them to distinguish their size.

“This one has two dots on it,” Erickson said holding up a half-cup. She has compiled items created by The Blind Kitchen along with tools already on the market to create four different collections. From kitchen basics, cutting and chopping, stovetop and oven.

Credit: Jon Goodwin, KGW

It doesn’t take long to notice why her work comes straight from the heart.

“I’ve got very little (vision) in my left eye and just a little bit in my right eye,” she said. “I see mostly clouds, like in this room I can see lights. That’s really what I see.”

At age 17, signs of Erickson's vision loss started appearing. A lack of peripheral vision and night vision eventually turned into retinitis pigmentosa and blindness.

“Blindness is a spectrum. I do refer to myself as blind even though I can see some shapes and light and darkness.”

Chef Erickson hasn’t let it hold her back from dishing out her favorite dishes for friend and family. She has help at The Blind Kitchen; Erin and Edgar assist in prep work and production of her cooking show that is more of a teaching tool at Willamette Falls Studios.

Today we had a very special guest, Jon Goodwin KGW visited The Blind Kitchen. Edgar Garcia Chavez Debra Erickson Erin Lyon Penelope Johnstone Willamette Falls Studios

Posted by The Blind Kitchen on Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Whether you’re cooking or not, and no matter your eyesight, Chef Erickson hopes you won’t give up just because it’s difficult.

“There's always a way to be able to follow your dreams and do things that you enjoy and love,” she said. “You've just got to figure out how and The Blind Kitchen was how I figured out mine.”

For information about the four collections from The Blind Kitchen, visit theblindkitchen.com/shop

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