Blind baker pounds dough with the Cheeseboard Collective

Strong community ties are a key feature of this landmark establishment in Berkeley, California (  Not only are all their sourdough breads, pizzas and cheeses in huge demand, but they take special care to foster community spirit.  They were wonderfully welcoming to this blind cook and you can see how they shared some of their favourite bakes ( .

Their Collective ethos has been established for decades and creates real workplace equality and shared responsibility.  Talking to Cathy, Erin and other members of the crew, it was obvious how much they enjoyed their baking, were proud of their products and felt strongly that they were a great team.  It’s difficult to imagine a better basis for a successful business – and it clearly is with their delicious food just flying off the shelves.

I had to be quick to keep up with their production rate and managed just some of their breads: focaccia, zampanos and bialys – all made to their exacting standards.  I’ve captured key elements of the recipes but recommend the Cheeseboard Collective cookbook for the real bread enthusiasts.

And this was my last cooking day in California before flying off to Costa Rica to cook in the jungle – all thanks to the Holman prize from San Francisco’s LightHouse for blind and visually impaired people.

Show that you support disabled people like me: Like and Share on Facebook and Twitter; Subscribe and Comment on the YouTube video.


Meet the sourdough professionals

California’s Cheeseboard Collective is an inspiration to anyone who wants to make, smell and greedily devour absolutely fantastic sourdough bread (  Watch my day with them ( and learn some true tricks of the trade.

The recipe is giant sized:   it takes a massive mixer to handle over 245 pounds or 112 kilos of this wonderful bread dough.  But, with a hoist and chains, you can see it is a one-woman job!  Perhaps not your idea of an easy morning in the kitchen – but there are some key principles to apply to your own bread making.

The Cheeseboard Collective is famous for creating one pizza each day and so popular that customers queue up in the street.  They also have an amazing selection of cheeses (hence the name!) and racks upon racks of different breads made with the sourdough (I’ll show you those next time).

This is a video to give you a real idea of how proper bread (not that woolly sliced stuff) is made and, with the help of their recipe book, you can make your own starter and sourdough too.  My thanks to them and the LightHouse organisation in San Francisco for helping me arrange this remarkable day.


Classic American cooking in Californian heartland

What could be more delicious and traditional than light crisp waffles dripping with cider syrup, made to order in the vibrant Brown Sugar Kitchen in Oakland?   Learn with me how to make them ( and check out the recipes at

Tanya Holland of the Brown Sugar Kitchen has built the reputation of her great Brown Sugar Kitchen restaurant on the traditions and community of West Oakland: across the Bay from San Francisco where African Americans working on the railway thrived, built homes and established their own culinary history.   Now everyone with a taste for authenticity travels from far and wide to share great food cooked with passion and pzazz.  No wonder Tanya is already looking to expand her Brown Sugar Kitchen.

Tanya explained the background of her food, “Soul food is the cooking that developed from what the Africans brought to this country, what ingredients they found in the South and what they brought with them.  The fusion of cultures that, over time, has produced dishes, such as fried chicken, gumbo, corn bread or Mac and cheese, that are associated with an African American cuisine.”

She allowed me to take part in a lunch time service: an open kitchen full of hustle and bustle, happy cooks and even happier customers.  There was huge pace, noise and boisterousness amongst the fellow chefs working in the galley-style kitchen – to the great amusement and entertainment of their clients.

Last week I shared Tanya’s shrimp and grits, this week it is a wonderful waffle that gains its lightness from both yeast and baking soda – so light you’d hardly guess that there’s a calorie in sight!  And the recipe is readily adapted to the home kitchen.

Tanya is rightly proud of the Oakland heritage and has commissioned local artists to capture the history and culture in the restaurant’s art works.  But, like any community, people and cuisines change: Tanya is at the forefront of embracing the current demands for organic and seasonal food which, in turn, attracts even more diverse and discriminating customers.

I also enjoyed the excellent homemade hot chocolate topped with their own marshmallows and a red velvet cake but missed out on the intriguing peanut butter cake which had all been sold.

This was a really terrific cooking experience that brought great American cooking alive for me – I’d had too much muddled fast food over previous days so it was a delight to be amongst real cooks again.

And all thanks to the Holman prize awarded by San Francisco’s LightHouse for blind and visually impaired people.


Ben and Blanche saved us

Genuine friendship and generosity was the hallmark of my baking Blind tour (  It made all the difference right from the very start when, by complete chance, I met Ben and Blanche over dinner in San Francisco.  They were fellow guests alongside myself and the two other winners of the Holman prize for blind people hosted by the city’s LightHouse organisation who were funding and running the competition.  I’d been staying in the LightHouse accommodation throughout our induction week – it is very geared up to their training function with the sort of communal washing facilities and shared accommodation that took me straight back to my days as a new entry trainee in the royal Navy in the 1970s.  Then I needed to move to a hotel in the city for the start of my project and what a rude shock that turned out to be!

Keeping costs down was a priority so I’d found an economic hotel through my travel company, Bridge the World.    But the request for an accessible disability-friendly room had clearly got lost in translation mid-Atlantic!  The bathroom was almost too hazardous to use at all and there was no possibility of me leaving the room for the 36 hours before Toby, my videographer, arrived.  Top marks go to the reception staff who volunteered to bring me food as there was no restaurant –  but I did get a bit fed up with pizza every time.  The hotel management simply didn’t understand the concept of disability accessible at any point from the very steep entry steps, the risky corridors and the ancient lift (or should I say elevator?).

It was simply a matter of staying put, barely moving around the room and waiting for the chance to escape.  And what a relief that Ben and Blanche had spontaneously offered us accommodation just a day earlier.  We were due to move our activities across the San Francisco Bay next day and their home was going to be much more sensible for locations in Oakland and Berkeley.

If you have seen the two videos of me cooking with Luis at China Live in the city, you saw me at rather a low spot: tired after two days in the miserable hotel, despondent about the accommodation and desperate to escape.  Which is exactly what we did within an hour of completing the session: bags packed, in to a taxi and over the Bridge to the warm and genuine welcome of Ben and Blanche.  He is also visually impaired, hence his connection to LightHouse, but a great sailor who regaled us with his tales of the sea.  Blanche was the hostess with the mostest kindness and care.  It felt like coming home!

So, by the next day, after a decent night’s sleep and supper of real rather than processed food cooked by foodie Ben, we were raring to go at the renowned Oakland Brown Sugar Kitchen.  This gave me a glimpse of the traditional Southern food – this week I’m learning about Creole shrimp and grits and chef-owner Tanya Holland ( has shared her Creole spice mix and recipe ( with us.  Next week, her waffles and fried chicken for those who want the real American versions.


Crackers at China Live

Top chef Luis turned under-cooked rice and grass from the coast of China in to an amazing fine dining experience (

You will be as staggered as I by the amount of time (potentially three days), the attention to detail and the amazing interpretation of a beach after a bonfire!  This was Luis’ inspiration in creating the seagrass cracker that was the crowning glory to his delicate dessert with passion fruit cream

And he didn’t stop there but delicately added bubbles of smoke flavour to the plate!  This is where the chef with Michelin experience stands head and shoulders ahead of the home cook.    And even more so when that cook can’t see either.

It was a fabulous dessert and he generously shared both his recipe and the tricks of the trade – check out the video.

I was lucky enough to cook alongside him at the outstanding China Live restaurant in San Francisco’s famous China Town thanks to winning the Holman prize run by the city’s LightHouse organisation for blind people.




Can blind cook survive in professional kitchen?

Imagine the challenge of cooking alongside a Michelin-level chef making eclectic Chinese cuisine from authentic ingredients in an ultra-high-tech kitchen – without any sight at all (  Then double the anxiety and stress because everything is being captured on video and it will be your first test of the Baking blind world tour.

Yes, I was very nervous that I’d make a complete mess of the day: bang around the kitchen, drop the ingredients and generally look stupid.  Thank goodness for consummate professional Executive Pastry Chef Luis who not only cooks at the top of his game in the prestigious China Live restaurant  in San Francisco but is also a compelling instructor at the local college.  He chose to show me his seagrass cake with passion fruit cream.  Not only utterly delicious and a fabulous example of fine dining but capable of being translated in to this blind home cook’s repertoire.  If I can do it, anyone can!

I’d never heard of seagrass which comes from the coast of China and is used in place of flour to produce an ultra-light sponge  that is flecked with green and brown.  And the passion fruit powder is definitely on my shopping list to create desserts with real intense flavour – you can find it on the web.    Luis showed me new ways of making the cake and cream – just basic for him but great learning for me.

China Live is in the famous Chinatown area of San Francisco and is not to be missed.  Across five floors, it offers every aspect of Chinese cuisine from the more relaxed café at the entrance to the fine dining and banqueting facilities.  They also sell authentic ingredients and innovative ceramics and equipment.  We lunched on some fried dumplings that were just outstanding.  Big thumbs up.

San Francisco was the starting point of my adventure cooking across six continents  because it is also the base of the LightHouse organisation that created and funded my international Holman prize.  My goal over all the coming video episodes is to show that a shared passion, whether for cooking, work or anything else, breaks down barriers of disability.  I think that you will see that Luis happily treated me like any other semi-competent cook: we just got on with the job in hand because my blindness didn’t matter.


Home Sweet Home

The smell of my own sheets, the touch of the familiar steps , taste of home-cooking and the sound of my turtle doves cooing – I’m home at last after over five months in French hospitals.  There’s a short video about my homecoming and a couple of the latest traumas.  I had a great welcome with cards, flowers, balloons and all those Christmas presents I’d missed.Penny wearing her chefs hat with christmas presents in the garden

Enormous thanks to everyone who gave me the will and strength to get through those life-threatening times: all the medical, nursing, care and physiotherapy teams in France; all of you family, friends and colleagues who have visited and been in touch over the weeks.  While the health care was outstanding, it was the words of encouragement, the grasp of a hand, the laughter, the odd tear and the silly sounds shared with all you caring people that got through the coma, overcame the language barriers and made my recovery possible.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

I’m not out of the woods yet: neck vertebrae still need to consolidate and I still need more physical endurance, balance and stamina to get back to full function but I’m on track.  I’m even getting quite a suntan from walking daily in the local park, new muscles from getting in and out of chairs plus confidence to climb stairs.  Standing for long is still quite a challenge so my cooking is mainly limited to chopping while I sit – but it is a start!  It has been a sheer joy to be in my own shower, find my own clothes and be able to move around independently because I know where everything is – to the millimetre!


But I’m still driven by my desire to fulfil my role as a winner of the international Holman prize funded by San Francisco’s LightHouse organisation: I’ve cooked around the world and now want to share all those experiences, adventures and culinary delights with you.

Already I’m working on all the videos and recipes from the Baking Blind world tour.  It is thrilling to relive the fun and delight of all those wildly enthusiastic chefs and the tastes of their fantastic food. Next week you can see the seagrass cake by Luis in San Francisco – new ingredients and techniques by a culinary superstar.  So please do subscribe to the Baking Blind YouTube channel and watch the whole adventure unfold …there are more surprises still to come!


Walking wounded.

Over 3 months since nearly dying in a car accident, I’m just about back on my feet.

I think that they reckon one loses about 2% muscle mass for every week in bed so you can imagine that I’m now rather a weakling!

Each day is a struggle to master a new exercise, re-build lost muscles, get some better balance and achieve more independence.

It was thrilling to have a shower while laid out on the special trolley that has flip up sides to become a mini-bath   Penny's bateau used for her shower

But even better to be able to sit and then stand for a real shower – though still hanging on for grim death.

I don’t have to be hoisted out of bed anymore in the big bag but can now do it by myself.

I’ve progressed and can now stand up by myself, walk with just one hand on the parallel bars and even do a fairly quick dash down the corridor with a “walker” machine.  Every day includes over four hours physiotherapy so there’s a real risk that I’ll be fitter than before the accident!

The electric wheelchair is still my main mode of travel to the gym etc but they don’t let me drive it myself: I think that having some sight is really fairly essential as it can go pretty fast!

E-mails and phone calls, a bevy of Easter eggs, other delicious and thoughtful gifts from back home, lots of visits and great staff all make the rehabilitation process bearable – and there are lots of opportunities to share laughs with other patients as we struggle along.  I’ve been outside to enjoy that tiny bit of sunshine that managed to penetrate a very cold and wet Spring season.  My top ambition is to get back to all my Baking Blind activities in the next few weeks – even though I’ve managed a simple fruit salad, I can’t wait to be cooking again.  I’m making a list of everything I want to cook as soon as I’m able.  The food here is not so hot and is rather monotonous: never to see another piece of mini-pasta would be wonderful!PMB CHU CAPUCINS 2018-38

My thanks to San Francisco’s Lighthouse organisation for their patience while I make good my recovery to complete the rest of my Holman prize project: I’m sure that all the future videos and recipes will be worth the wait.



Baking Blind China visit inspires Toby’s exhibition.

My nephew, Toby, is a key member of the Baking Blind team: he is the videographer who has captured all the thrills and spills of my cooking adventure over the last year.  He was intrepid in accompanying me throughout the world tour and, as himself a professional freelance architectural illustrator, was inspired by China .  I am thrilled that the Holman prize (funded by San Francisco’s Lighthouse organisation) has produced this extra outcome – and am very humbled that he has dedicated the exhibition to me.


The debut solo exhibition by


22/03/18 – 28/03/18

65 Decima St, London SE1 4QR



​​Transformative artworks observe the troubling changes to communities in Uk and China. 

The project was inspired by a recent trip to China and an active study on the economic upheaval of cities; Chongqing and Shanghai. On returning to the UK, Toby was reminded of more familiar forms of displacement; the young unable to buy property and artists turfed out of studios due to high rents.

The resulting work is an attempt to observe the changes in our communities. Asking what should change and what should remain? Touching on gentrification, migration and preservation. This is a look at our current state and an acknowledgment that society is always in flux, always In-between.

On the Launch Night (22/03/18), the subject of transformation will be brought to life by 8 brand new drawings. Intricately detailed artworks that change under specialist lighting. In the adjacent room, risograph printed posters, celebrating the event will be on sale, along with a live draw, free beers and specially composed acoustics.

The following Saturday (24/03/18), budding creatives, (ages 6 to 15), are invited to the In-between Invisible Ink Workshop. An event in partnership with Little Architect. The afternoon will begin with a short presentation from Toby and Little Architect, followed by a drawing activity, where attendees will then be invited to consider their own surroundings, what it is they enjoy and what they’d like to change. Finally there will be a chance to create a mural which uses invisible inks to convey the transitory nature of the city. Little Architect is an education and learning platform for teaching architecture and sustainability in London’s primary schools led by the Architectural Association School of Architecture.

Toby is most notable for his intricately imagined responses to our built environment. Subjects range from maps to architecture, contexts range from animation to wall murals. He’s been commissioned by Nike, Architectural Review, Imperial War Museum and The Crown Estate.

“Complex, exhilarating, challenging and troubling, local and transnational. Toby’s work‚ 

In-Between, observes shifting communities and their displacement in China and the UK, across time and space, class, gender and ethnicity. Where are the boundaries between them?”

Harriet Evans University of Westminster/LSE. Prof Evans is a leading voice on contemporary Chinese culture.

In-between is dedicated to Penny Melville-Brown.

In 2017, Penny became a Holman Prize finalist, awarded by LightHouse, enabling a world tour of her YouTube cooking show Baking Blind. Toby joined her as videographer and assistant. It was during their time in China that Toby was inspired to begin this project. As a blind veteran who helps those with disabilities get into work, championing a much marginalised community, Penny is someone Toby values greatly. Visit her Baking Blind YouTube channel here.

Details & links

Further info and press images: Call Laura 07875653402 or email

In-between promo video link 

Launch Night 22/03/18, 7-10pm RSVP link

Invisible Ink Workshop 24/03/18, 3:30-5pm RSVP link   Instagram-@tobymelvillebrown   Twitter-@toby_mel_brown   #inbetween

Naval history still inspires.

James Holman was a truly remarkable man:  he was just a young Royal Navy Lieutenant aged 22 when he lost his sight.  Undaunted, he used his personal charm, charisma and determination to travel the world alone and become the most renowned travel writer of his generation.  Even more remarkable, he was doing all of this about 200 years ago and when blindness carried massive social stigma – our modern concerns with accessibility, discrimination and equality pale in to insignificance.

Visiting the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard gave me some clues to what his life would have been like.    I heard the waterfront and the sea shanties, the shouts and cries of bustling people, the creak of wood and rope in the wind.  The smells of hot coals on the brazier and food cooking mixed with the sea salt and ozone.  Underfoot, the cobbles were hard and the weather was icy cold with sea winds.  I could touch the hard metal of the cannons, the roughness of rope and the swing of the hammock.

James would have known HMS VICTORY as Nelson’s flagship (he’d joined the Navy around the time of the Battle of Trafalgar) even though the ship was already decades old and getting out of date.  During his life, conditions at sea would have gradually improved and HMS WARRIOR, the new iron-clad warship, was launched soon after James’ death.

He had joined the Royal Navy through the academy in Gosport – just across the Solent from Portsmouth – and the chances are high that he too knew many of the buildings that were also familiar to me from my own years of serving in the Naval Base.  So this visit was doubly poignant: echoing his own footsteps and re-treading some of the paths I’d trod nearly 20 years ago – all in this year of the Women’s Royal Naval Service centenary.

Both of us had careers that were cut short by blindness but we went on to carve out new futures – his was magnificently illustrious and I have just tried to follow his example.  But neither of us gave up to disability – perhaps our naval training gave us the competences, self-confidence and people skills to carry on?

You can see the adventures I’ve had as a winner of the international Holman prize run by San Francisco’s LightHouse for the Blind on my YouTube channel.


Penny with HMS Victory in the background