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Can Cook, Will Cook

by Liz Carr

10th October 2008

I used to be kitchen-phobic. For many years, it was just a room my personal assistants would disappear into at mealtimes and then 'hey presto', a plate of food. I was no domestic goddess, but that didn't matter because thankfully my personal assistants were culinary wizards in the kitchen.
Liz holding a tray of Sushi
I wasn't always this way. When I was a child, the kitchen was one of my favourite places - especially when my mum was baking. By the age of 7, I was an expert at cutting out scones from the dough, licking cake mixture from the spoon and ending up covered in flour. Delicious memories.
But then I became a young wheelie and with that, the kitchen became inaccessible and cookery became therapeutic. With two steps into the house and my bedroom upstairs, being able to wheel into the kitchen was the least of our worries. Initially after becoming disabled I had to go to the hospital school and once a week we'd have a cookery lesson. This was always great fun - for the teacher; she would do all the measuring, mixing and pouring whilst all we were well enough to do was sit in the state of the art rehabilitation kitchen and watch. The only thing I managed in the two years of these classes was to put mini Easter eggs into nests made of shredded wheat.

When I went to mainstream school, things still didn't improve. The home economics classes were held upstairs and the attitude from everyone was that since I was physically unable to lift a pan and would always need 24 hour assistance, it was unnecessary for me to know how to cook. I concurred.

I was, however, fascinated by other disabled people who like me, couldn't do the hands on business of cooking but who would direct their pa's to prepare a meal, "brown the chicken, season the vegetables and then stir in the stock please". What?! They may as well have been speaking in tongues for all I understood of their cookery code. It became clear that I had neither the knowledge nor the vocabulary to tell my pa's what to do in the kitchen so I didn't even try. Instead, I decided to cut out the middle woman, just tell my pa's what I wanted to eat and then leave them to cook it.
Liz in the kitchen with a recipe book and ingredients
And that's how I've survived for the past 18 years. Until last month, when for my girlfriend's birthday, I paid for us both to go on a sushi making course. I was just going along to keep her company but what happened on that September morning in a sushi restaurant in London has irrevocably changed my life.

When we arrived, I noticed everyone else was towering above me, sitting on high stools at the counter. I felt that familiar pit of dread in my stomach and prepared for the battle ahead, but there was no need. The chef and teacher led us to a lower table, right in front of the demonstration area and next to our classmates. He began the course by introducing himself, reading out some health and safety information and then pointed out the location of the toilets, "ladies and gents are down that corridor and the handica... and ummmm the disabled toilet is just behind you." I relaxed - they were obviously trying hard to make Japanese food accessible for all.

Next, we were provided with a bamboo sushi rolling mat and a dish with many compartments filled with brightly coloured foods. For three hours, we molded sticky rice in our hands, folded dark green sheets of seaweed and then rolled all the ingredients together. This wasn't like cookery, this was more like an edible craft activity. I was rapt.
Liz holding a tray of chocolate desserts
And that is how I, Liz Carr the kitchen-phobe, overcame my fears and learnt to love cooking. All it took was one fun, non-therapeutic and accessible experience to make me want to explore this brave new world a little further. I came home, searched the Internet for quick and easy recipes, wheeled into the unfamiliar territory of my kitchen and the rest is culinary history. I still can't lift a pan, get the ingredients out of the cupboard or turn on the stove but that really doesn't matter because my sous chefs, i.e. my pa or my partner, can.

Since the course, I've been on a steep but tasty learning curve. I follow a strict daily diet of Masterchef, Ready Steady Cook and Come Dine With Me. My new best friends are Nigella, Gordon and Jamie. My previously empty fridge is now full of fresh herbs, pickled ginger and balsamic glaze. Every spare moment I get, I'm in the kitchen frying, fricasseeing and fonduing. Forget 'meals on wheels', it's now more a case of 'seared tuna steaks with a salsa verdi on a bed of rocket' on wheels.

Bon Appetit!

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