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TX: 12.03.10 - Can't See, Will Cook

PRESENTER: PETER WHITE
THE ATTACHED TRANSCRIPT WAS TYPED FROM A RECORDING AND NOT COPIED FROM AN ORIGINAL SCRIPT. BECAUSE OF THE RISK OF MISHEARING AND THE DIFFICULTY IN SOME CASES OF IDENTIFYING INDIVIDUAL SPEAKERS, THE BBC CANNOT VOUCH FOR ITS COMPLETE ACCURACY.

WHITE
Kitchens of course can be hazardous places at the best of times but if you're visually impaired the risks posed by knives, hobs, hot plates, boiling pans are all the greater. As a result many people who do have a sight disability tend to opt out of cooking altogether, or they stick to familiar basics.

Which is where our new initiative comes in. Not so much 'Can't Cook Won't Cook' but 'Can't See, Will Cook'!

Richard Lane is now a dab hand in his kitchen. Confidently cutting and chopping, spooning and stirring his latest creation - a mushroom risotto. But it wasn't like this 20 years ago when he first lost his sight. Then there were far more disasters than triumphs.

LANE
I decided that I was going to do a wonderful fry up - good old bacon, sausages, fried egg, fried bread da da da da - absolute disaster. The smoke alarm went off, the extractor fan - I went to switch it off and I pulled it off the wall - the dog was howling - it was just mayday, it was mayhem and mayday, it was just appalling, it was so stressful and I ended up throwing most of the breakfast in the washing up bowl. So I ended up eating about a third of it and it was a thoroughly miserable disenchanting experience and I thought crikey things can only get better.

I've just added the lovely risotto rice into the buttery onion mixture in this nice pan I've got here and just before I start adding the vegetable stock - which is the core element of making risotto - stir, stir, stir - going to add a glass of white wine - there's going to be a wonderful sound which people will hear and a wonderful smell which people sadly won't be able to appreciate.

WHITE
I will.

LANE
So that's the white wine that's gone in. And I just need to stir that around and let the alcohol evaporate off for a couple of minutes, which it will do. There's this wonderful pungent aromatic smell coming straight up from the pan - I do love this bit. One of the reasons I like this dish by the way - despite what some people say risotto can be a difficult dish to make but in my experience I really do think this is a dish that's good for blind people because it's a very acoustic - it's a very audio kind of dish. The rice basically talks to you - listen to it - the rice is spitting, the rice is saying look I'm thirsty, I don't want to dry out in this pan and have a horrible end to my life, please feed me with wonderful white wine and wonderful vegetable stock, which is what I'm about to do.

And as you see I've added it and the rice is now quiet.

WHITE
Just explain what it is that you're trying to do because you're trying to spread the word aren't you.

LANE
Yes I am Peter. I've always been really interested in food and that goes back before I became blind nearly 20 years ago, but I'm also conscious that we live in a very food dominated world, I mean every time you put the telly on there's a cookery programme or something going on. So I started thinking where do visually impaired people fit into this. Then two or three years ago I spent a couple of years living alone and I sort of had to learn to cook again really to survive. And sometimes, just like anyone else, I was perfectly happy to chuck something in the microwave or heat up some soup in a pan but at other times I thought well hang on why can't I do some proper cooking. And that's been my kind of challenge for the past couple of years.

WHITE
So what you want is to hear from other visually impaired cooks about what they're doing and what they're trying?

LANE
Absolutely. I've got this idea that a. there are some brilliant cooks out there who are blind or partially sighted that we don't know about and I think it would be interesting to find them but perhaps more importantly, Peter, as you say on the programme - on In Touch - so often, people are losing their sight all the time and it's such a traumatic, such a difficult time. If you're elderly particularly and you're losing your sight you're probably thinking cookery's beyond me, I'm not going to be able to do that and I think through this series of programmes we can demonstrate to people that cooking isn't just possible, it can be great fun as well.

WHITE
How difficult was it for you to get started again, can you remember how you felt about cooking when you were totally blind?

LANE
Absolutely I can and I want to make it clear - I use the shortcuts as much as anyone else - the microwave, lob things in the oven - jacket potatoes - they're not too difficult are they really?

WHITE
Have you solved the problem of the fried breakfast yet because there are a lot of people who still say they won't - blind people - who won't fry?

LANE
Peter, I haven't solved it, I've given it another go, I've had some semi-successful results but - maybe by the end of this series, maybe there's a blind person out there who will show us how they can - they can do a fry up because I haven't mastered it. Risotto's a lot easier.

WHITE
So from your point of view what stage do you think you've now reached?

LANE
I've reached the point now where I don't need to worry about am I going to eat well, by well I mean not just tasty food but a sensible varied diet as well. I think over the past two or three years particularly I've got a much better sense - aha, here the rice is saying I'm thirsty...

WHITE
More wine?

LANE
Rice is thirsty, no it's time for the stock. Excuse me one sec - have to come across to the microwave.

MICROWAVE
Door open. Door closed.

LANE
Two pints of lovely vegetable stock. Right let's shut the rice up. So I've added a bit of the stock because the thing about risotto is - it would be terribly easy if you could just chuck it all in and leave it to get on with itself but you can't - it's quite high maintenance - risotto - but it's high maintenance in a nice way, it needs attention, you know you've got to be tending it, you've got to be caressing it because of course the whole point about risotto is you're releasing the starch from the special Arborio rice, as you stir it and add the stock, so you get this lovely creamy - hopefully - texture result at the end.

WHITE
You have no sight at all, a lot of people listening to us will have some and they might be coping with sight deteriorating, that must create problems of its own.

LANE
Yeah the thing about sight deterioration - and I do remember this - I do believe actually sometimes it's more of a hazard - if you can see a bit than if you can't see at all. Certainly when I was in my early 20s with very poor sight I convinced myself and a few others that I could see a lot more than I actually could and therefore I put myself in some fairly compromising situations. I don't want to discourage partially sighted people from cooking at all, far from it - there are times ...

WHITE
No, we want to hear from them.

LANE
We want to hear from them and frankly Peter there are times when if I just had a tiny bit of sight - oh I would just love that so much in the kitchen - to pick up that thing I've dropped or something. But you've got to know your limitations - whether you've got good partial sight, a little bit of partial sight or no sight at all - no your limitations and just prepare and off you go.

WHITE
One favourite tip Richard?

LANE
I think my favourite tip to take away is even if you don't fancy mushroom risotto it's this thing - that is most important - this is my chef's pan. It's larger than a frying pan, it's smaller than a wok, it doesn't have a handle that sticks out, that you could knock over if you can't see, it's only got small little handles on the side. Non-stick inside. Because it's got little - it's quite deep, you're not pushing food off onto the stove. It is just the most wonderful dish - it's called the chef's pan and I use it for 80% of the things I do. And if you do nothing else go and get a chef's pan.

WHITE
So safe and not messy.

LANE
Correct.

WHITE
Now you're calling your project Can't See, Will Cook - who exactly do you want to hear from and what do you want them to do?

LANE
I want to hear from blind and partially sighted people all over the United Kingdom who have an interest in food and have started making perhaps a difficult journey into cooking independently, not just chucking something in the microwave but people who have actually got to the point where they're giving real home cooking a good go.

WHITE
And the idea is that you want to go to the homes - to the kitchens - of some of the people who get in touch with us and well basically nick their ideas.

LANE
Yes, thank you for putting it so elegantly Peter, I hope it doesn't deter people from coming forward but ...

WHITE
Well look that is already smelling absolutely delicious Richard, I am not going to do that deeply irritating thing of having me slurping and saying ooh isn't that wonderful, I'm going to eat it in peace and back in the studio we'll give people details of how they can get in touch with us and also how they can cook that recipe.

And it was delicious too, I'm not just saying that.

What we need for Can't See Will Cook are three things: your experiences and tips, a favourite recipe and a willingness to have Richard in your kitchen so that you can demonstrate your meal. And we are talking specifically about visually impaired people. You can either ring us on 0800 044 044, you can't e-mail the programme via our website bbc.co.uk/radio4/youandyours. And there'll be more on this initiative on In Touch next Tuesday at 8.40 - p.m. of course. Meantime Richard's recipe for mushroom risotto will be up on our website later this afternoon.

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