David Black has been totally blind since childhood, but is now leading a remarkable cookery course that may be the first of its kind in Scotland.
He’s the first person with sight loss to be qualified as an instructor by the Royal Environmental Health Institute of Scotland, and works in the kitchen at the Forth Valley Sensory Centre in Camelon.
And besides being proud of his ability to show students how to create dishes ranging from spaghetti and meatballs to courgette cake he’s pleased he is quashing tired old negative views about disabilities on a daily basis.
“I’m proud of myself when I make something”, he says.
“I want to get rid of the negative rubbish that people with special needs ‘can’t do’, and hear the words ‘can do.’
“Some years ago I got depressed, but cooking helped - so that is why I wanted to teach other people to cook and give them confidence.”
He makes it clear that he has no intention of trying to become the next Gordon Ramsay, because his skill is about practical skill in the right context.
“Everything has to have its place” he explains. “That is why I cannot work in a restaurant, it would be too hazardous - people walking up and down, bumping into folk, walking into an open cupboard door, or knocking over a pan of boiling water.”
That, obviously, is what he can’t do, but there’s still plenty of room for maneouvre - plenty of “can do”.
He uses talking scales and thermometers, and has what he terms little “bumps” on his cooker and microwave so he can operate the controls.
David teaches two pupils at a time and can produce lentil and leek and potato soups, chopping up his own vegetables with a chef’s knife.
He is equally skilled when it comes to curries and pasta dishes and “bakes a mean scone”.
His signature dishes are sold in the cafe at the Centre.
One of David’s first students was Lee Russell, who attended a special school.
“It was good. I really enjoyed it”,he said.
“I’m planning to start cooking at home because when my mum and dad are no longer here to look after me I am going to have to take care of myself.
“It has given me a new start.
“I feel really confident in myself now, and it’s also cheaper and will save me money in the long run.”
The courses last for four to six weeks and are run under the guidance of NHS Forth Valley Community Food Development Workers Sonya Kaila-Tierney and Peter Marriott.
Peter has been assessing David’s skills and says his enthusiasm is “mind-blowing”.
He said: “If someone like David can do it, with the barrier he has, I can’t see why others can’t do it.
“It’s all about supporting people in taking responsibility for their own health.”
He and Sonya believe that introducing people with sensory impairments to elementary cooking skills introduces them to good, fresh food, rather than fast food they might otherwise think is easier to manage.
Sonya said: “Rather than seeing a GP and presenting them with high blood pressure or type 2 diabetes, we are trying to work with people to keep them healthier for longer.
“One of the side effects of diabetes is diabetic retinopathy so it’s better for us to encourage people
to eat more healthily and avoid sight loss.”