Chefs and cooks champion diversity.

I set out to use cooking to change attitudes towards blindness and other disabilities – and China showed me how well this works.  Last week with aboriginal Fred, simply cooking a fish together was a bridge between our very different cultures.  This week, gastronomically diverse Melbourne showed that great cooks and chefs aren’t constrained by issues of race, nationality, ethnicity, disability, gender or other false barriers: food is all about generosity, sharing, learning from each other, crossing culinary borders and using the best ideas and ingredients, whatever their source.   The Greek “Euro Bites” eatery was a prime example (

It was a special treat to encounter new ingredients and equipment:  gastronome Charlene (  used smoked fresh eggs in both the pasta and the filling of her ravioli dish – these eggs have long shelf-life and would be ideal in a savoury soufflé, kedgeree and much more.  The Chef’s Hat emporium ( offered every sort of cooking equipment.  Food writer Dani ( introduced me to the widely popular Thermomix to produce fluffily delicious bread rolls in under an hour.    I’d been rather sceptical about the prospect of just filling an éclair until I spent time with Dre, an amazingly entrepreneurial pastry chef who is already expanding her patisserie and restaurant empire (  Maribel, who is also blind (, was utterly inspirational: already a published writer and travel blogger, she is a wonderful cook, singer and champion for visually impaired people – you can hear her and partner Harry ( on the Melbourne video.













We were hosted by the Bostock family: another link to the Royal Navy and James Holman (after whom the prize that is funding me is named).  Former Royal Navy Commander Colin also arranged for me to spend a morning with the Australian Defence Force catering and hospitality trainees at Holmesglen college ( – another military reminder.  The Bostocks were unstinting in their generosity and friendship while daughter Sarah shared her knowledge on indigenous culture.

Following that trail, we moved on to Perth to meet up with Lynda, a former Women’s Royal Naval Service officer, who took us to the Maalinup aboriginal art gallery and bush tucker garden ( to meet artist PhilNarkle (  Now we have some small authentic artefacts to share with those who can only follow our adventures from afar.

And great news on the Australian equality agenda: a strong turn-out has just voted Yes to same-sex marriage: the people have spoken!

All of this is part of my adventure cooking around six continents funded by the international Holman prize run by San Francisco’s LightHouse for the Blind.  You can see the short composite videos we post at the end of each visit and, when we have had a chance to edit all the material back in the UK, we will be posting all the cooking sessions and recipes in the New Year.

Malawi next – if South African Airways can find an aircraft that works (we have a 24 hour delay in Perth)



Baking Blind in Africa.

Lilongwe, capital of Malawi, is my last stop on this year’s Baking Blind trip (Hello Lilongwe).  I’ll be flying from Melbourne in Australia via a one day stop-over in Perth to cook with another former WRNS colleague, Lynda.  Then back in the air to Johannesburg in South Africa before reaching Malawi.

Again, I was in South Africa years ago for yet another World Blind Union conference in Cape Town.  I have some wonderful ceramics and glassware from that trip so I am looking forward to exploring the arts and crafts of Malawi.

Visiting another African country is going to be a fantastic new opportunity and experience.  I’m being hosted by the Latitude 13 hotel  where their head chef is already planning a menu of dishes to teach me.  And there will be several chances to cook with local people including those with visual impairments.  Perhaps most important of the whole trip will be the group of people with albinism (which can also affect their sight) who face many other challenges too.







My impression is that many people in rural Malawi largely grow their own food.  After the last few weeks of more complicated cooking, it will be really good to get back to the basics of fresh home-grown produce.    Here, in the UK, we seem to have lost our connection with the soil and are struggling to re-capture the ethos of farm-to-table rather than flying in industrially-produced food.  There is much to learn from the approach in Malawi and the recipes will be on

Meanwhile, Peter, who helps with my garden, has been telling me about Lake Malawi: apparently originally sea water and the home to the Malawi cichlids.  He’s been keeping tropical fish for years and these are amongst the most collectable.  They are “mouth-brooders” so the females, and sometimes the males, gather up the fertilised eggs in their mouths where they develop in a pouch near their “chin”.  When the baby fish are ready to hatch, they are blown back in to the water – but they can swim back in to the pouch if a predator is detected.  The adult fish can protect perhaps 200 babies in this way.

After Lilongwe, I’ll be back in the UK for Christmas, editing masses of videos with videographer Toby so that we can show you more of our trip.  But my time as one of the Holman prize-winners doesn’t end there: there will be more cooking in Hampshire and Europe in the new year which concludes in the autumn with a presentation to the prize organisers, San Francisco’s LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired.  You’ll be able to see all of this on my YouTube channel.



Just one day: paper bark cooking plus air/sea rescue.

A few hours and life lurched from one extreme to another: a truly enlightening morning getting a glimpse of bush tucker with aboriginal Fred followed by the high drama of nephew and videographer Toby and another friend being rescued from a life-or-death sea emergency.

With Fred (, I felt rather foolish and thoughtless for not recognising that his ancient culture had the sophisticated development we see in our own more modern societies.  Hence, it is no more reasonable to ask him as an expert bush tucker cook about the medicinal qualities of plants than expecting a chef to know the best treatment for an illness.  Aboriginal culture, like ours, has a whole range of experts – from law and medicine to cooking and childcare.

Fred showed me the plants that can be ground in to flour for bread, the seed head that can be carried from camp to camp to light fires and much more.   He helped me wrap a snapper fish donated by the local fish market (, stuffed with lemon myrtle, in soaked paper bark and lily leaves for smoking on a barbeque – the origin of French style “en papiloutte”.

What I most admired was his clear and close connection with nature: the scrub land that he uses as a super market; his equanimity in the face of modern hustle and bustle; his irreverent sense of humour.  It was a real privilege to be shown just a glimpse of his world – all thanks to the planning and organisation of our Kiama hosts Rosemary and Ken.  They managed a week of different experiences: cooking with the award-winning Jo ( of the Country women’s Association; Martin, the blind chef in Sydney (; wine-tasting with Raj (; an Iranian fire-pit and barbecue meat fest with Eddie.  The generosity of spirit and enthusiasm for cooking was the essence of a magnificent week that had taken huge effort to arrange by Rosemary and Ken – huge thanks to them.





But, even the best laid plans couldn’t have prepared us for the drama that was unfolding as I was still chatting with Fred.  Toby and another friend had slipped down to the beach for a quick swim.  Within minutes, a rip tide had dragged them out 300 metres from the beach and was pulling them further out.  Thankfully, 12 year old Hannah had spotted them (not waving but drowning) and her family called the emergency services.  We arrived to find police cars massing alongside paramedics and lifeguards with two helicopters close on their heels.  Eventually a surfboard lifesaver reached them with the board providing extra flotation as they had reached critical levels of exhaustion and cold.  One-by-one, they were helped back to shore and encased in huge foil and thermal warming suits – they looked like two capons ready for roasting!  But, it was no joke at the time as they were probably less than 10 minutes from tragedy.  The emergency services did a wonderful job and I cannot be more thankful to them.  And the whole drama completely upstaged the Baking Blind activities on the local TV – you can watch the clip on YouTube.




There’ll be lots more videos and recipes from this latest visit as soon as we have edited them – probably early next year so please do keep tuned in.


Baking Blind in Melbourne.

Years ago, I was in Melbourne for one of the World Blind Union conferences and I’ve got lots of great memories of this city that still retained the charm of a much smaller town.     Now I’m on my way back with my Baking Blind adventure .

I particularly remember a whole series of water features along the popular river bank area that is the centre of social life.  Each water feature seemed at least 10 foot tall with water running down the outside and, at night, great gas jets lit up from their tops with amazing whooshes.  It wasn’t just one quick burn off but the whole line of water features would come to light in series and patterns of burns – it was just magical for someone who couldn’t see to get a sense through the sound and heat.  And there was another water feature of jets that sprang from the pavement – and the children could be occupied for hours dodging between the sporadic spouts.

I remember taking a boat down the river to the sea for a visit to the tiny island crammed with little penguins.

This new visit promises another wonderful series of memories.  I’m being hosted by Colin, another former royal Navy Commander, who is arranging for me to cook with Australian Defence Force trainees.  Maribel has been championing Baking Blind with local professional chefs so that, between the pair of them, I’ll have a whole variety of cooking experiences.

You can keep in touch with my adventures on YouTube.

And all of this has happened because San Francisco’s LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired selected me as one of three winners of their inaugural international Holman prize for blind people.


Chongqing – probably the biggest and most exciting city on Earth!

For richness of experience, this is the place: bustling, teeming, throbbing with life, developing, exploding, cutting edge, fascinating, stimulating and so much more!  Thank goodness for the vision of the rotary Club of Chongqing for making this latest Baking blind visit possible over the last nine days.  And, particular thanks are due to the indomitable Julia who organised every event.

Forget any myths about life being grey, the people being unfriendly or the culture being stifled.  Here life, like the thrum of the traffic and the 24 hour construction workers, never stops.  I’ve experienced everything from the woman sitting alongside her pavement display of antique coins to the dynamic optimism of high rise living.  Even at night, the city sparkles with drama: vast collections of buildings lit up:  the mystery of Chinese calligraphy to fish darting from tower to tower.

I’ve explored miniature garden landscapes (complete with waterfalls) in the flower market, haggled over sales, chorused improvised songs in an air-raid shelter cave, tramped along alleys carved in to rock complete with huge tree roots, negotiated steps galore, talked to everyone from local school children to Consuls general, just about managed some basic Mandarin and had one of the most memorable weeks of my life.

And cooking, of course, has been at the heart of it all.  Chongqing is famous (or notorious for some) for hot spicy food – they just love chillies.   Everyone needs to try their renowned “hot pot” at least once: a dish of hot oil redolent with chillies in which everyone cooks different delicate slices of meat, mushrooms, vegetables and seafood.  Each diner mixes their own dipping sauce: a personal ring-pull can of sesame oil poured over slithers of garlic, fresh coriander and, perhaps, soy and oyster sauces.  It’s like a fondue on acid – and only the bravest will attempt the option of offal slices – a gland too far?  I was lucky enough to share an authentic hot pot high in the mountains with the key chefs from the Intercontinental Hotel – Corporate Chef Julie Donaghue plus her Chinese colleagues Chefs Jack, Dylan and Frank plus the magnificent general Manager, Sharon.  If this team couldn’t find the best place, no-one could.   After a couple of the chilli-oil cooked delicacies, it felt as if I’d developed a Botox trout-pout of numb lips so I cravenly resorted to food cooked in hot chicken stock – delicious when my taste buds had returned to consciousness.

This city has already gained international credibility and must be one of the best places for business opportunities.  But I focused on Chinese cooking and have barely touched the enormous range of styles and diversity of fabulous ingredients.  There was chicken, wonderful braised pork and tofu with Chef Dylan, yellow fish and prawns with Chef Dong, sweet and sour pork plus braised beef with Charlie and a lunchtime feast with May.    There will be videos and recipes next year – and you can watch six of us struggling to make the traditional steamed dumplings so expertly demonstrated by Wangyi’s aunt.  I did knock up some rather unadventurous raspberry sponges for the International women’s group – but mainly as they were simple and time was tight.

You’ll be able to get a real insight in to how and where people cook: from the wild and noisy commercial kitchens to the sleek modernism of high rise apartments with the hippie chic of Charlie’s hillside backpacker hostel.

When I started this Baking Blind venture, it was all about how sharing a great enthusiasm might bring people together, regardless of disability or blindness.    This week has proved that a common passion for cooking can transcend cultural differences, language difficulties and so much more.  The best example is how the Intercontinental chefs and I worked alongside two young blind women.    Both had trained to provide Chinese medicinal massage but had virtually no kitchen experience – even handling a knife!  So they are utterly dependant on others feeding them – whether the cook in the massage centre or street food.  It was poignant to take part as they gained in confidence: together we made dishes that used all our senses, learned how to feel how meat is cooking, taste for balance of flavours, feel temperatures and consistencies, smell and listen as food cooks.   What was magical was how something as simple as food worked to create the bonds of humanity and empathy – transcending differences in culture and capacity, relegating preconceptions about disability and blindness to the bin.

Check out the Baking Blind website and the YouTube videos so far.

I’d love your feedback and perhaps you have a recipe to share:

Baking Blind goes Down Under.

You might not have heard of Kiama, a delightful seaside town about two hours south of Sydney by road.  It will be my first proper stop in Australia with old friends Rosemary and Ken.

Ro and I first met many years ago when she was working at St Dunstan’s charity (now Blind Veterans UK).  She madly volunteered to accompany me to a European Blind Union conference in Athens and we had a true meeting of minds over enjoyment of good food, much shopping and great fun.  We left loaded with leather goods, shoes, crystallised fruit, jewellery, pistachio nuts and more – and still enjoyed meeting all the blind delegates from all over Europe too.

We’ve kept in touch over the years and even went on a cooking holiday in Umbria, Italy last year.  For the first time, I’ll be able to visit her new home in Kiama and get a sense of living in a small Australian town.  She’s working hard at arranging a great variety of cooking opportunities so that my Baking Blind adventure ( includes the less well-known aspects of Australia.

And, of course, none of this could happen without the support of the Holman prize  being run by San Francisco’s LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired.

You can keep up with my trip on YouTube.


Precision cooking

Roger is a gentleman of some maturity dressed in his stripey apron and with his blackboard of the cooking timings.Measuring pieces of spaghetti to the nearest half centimetre and asparagus by the inch plus using a stopwatch to time the cooking isn’t my usual style but neighbour Roger proved that more precision reaps benefits.

His chalkboard checklist for every step and timing was the crucial kitchen gadget for creating his truly excellent pasta dish – and adapted from the BBC Good Food magazine’s “101 Simple Suppers”.  Such a logical approach certainly works for anyone who isn’t confident about cooking – although I’d need to find a different way of pre-planning each step and timing.  I’ll just have to revert to my old touch, smell and taste ways and hope for the best. I confess that, as a usually rather slapdash cook, I could barely stop laughing at this way of cooking but there’s no doubt that it works: a great dish in exactly the time the recipe stipulates.  I’ll have to mend my ways.roger’s slate board with his cooking times. Roger and Penny dressed in their stripey aprons in the kitchen ready to start the dish.

You can watch us on YouTube or download the recipe here


 Roger supervising the cooking of strips of bacon in the large frying pan