Thursday, August 21, 2008

Very cool article...Cooking Blind...

08.09.08 -- Allen Preston and Celia Chacon from "Cooking Without Looking" make cheesecake filling during a demonstration in Macy's inside the Aventura Mall. Both Preston and Chacon are legally blind. Preston has Myopic retinopathy and Chacon has Retinitis pigmentosa.

Celia Chacon has been cooking and baking since she was 6, so when she lost her vision in 1996 to diabetic retinopathy, she was determined to adapt in the kitchen. It took time, but eventually she learned to feel, smell and even hear the ingredients.

''I can hear granulated sugar, powdered sugar and even brown sugar,'' she said during a cooking demonstration Aug. 9 at Macy's Aventura Mall.

Chacon shares her techniques on the public television show, Cooking Without Looking, which is geared toward the blind and people with limited sight. Chacon and her co-hosts, Allen Preston and Annette Watkins, showed the Macy's audience how to bake a cheesecake.

All the ingredients were placed on the counter: cream cheese, eggs, sugar, lemon and vanilla extract. Preston added three eight-ounce packages of cream cheese to a food processor as directed by Chacon and searched for the ''on'' button with his finger.

''On is usually next to off,'' Chacon explained.

The processor blended the cream cheese.

''The sound is changing,'' Preston said.

Preston has myopic retinopathy, which only allows him to see images of contrasting light, he said. Watkins has Stargardt's disease, a form of macular degeneration that has robbed her central vision. During the television show's segment ''Food for Thought,'' she interviews guests who've recently lost their sight.

On the set, Preston provides humor and Watkins helps pass the ingredients.

Hearing the cream cheese flow smoothly, Chacon and Preston knew it was time for the next ingredient. They gradually added one cup of sugar and four eggs. Chacon gave Preston a warning not to spill the eggs.

''Watch it!'' Chacon said.

''Watch it? I can't watch it,'' Preston said, jokingly.

The cheesecake was popped into a 350-degree oven, but the 65 or so audience members didn't have to wait for a taste. Chacon had prepared two strawberry cheesecakes for the presentation the night before, one regular and the other low-fat sugar-free.

Dominic Poli, 83, said he enjoyed the presentation and the cheesecake.

''It was tasty,'' said Poli, a retired physical therapist from Hallandale Beach.

James Leider, 51, said he will close his eyes the next time he cooks to empathize with Chacon.

''We are so blessed to be able to see,'' said Leider, a real-estate broker in Sunny Isles Beach who likes to cook.

Though the presention was geared toward fans of the kitchen, it also was intended to open people's eyes about capabilities of the disabled.

''It shows that a handicapped person can do great things,'' Poli said. ``They're an inspiration.''

Chacon encourages blind people not to give up their passion just because they can't see.

''Make whatever task a challenge and try to defeat the challenge so you can perfect yourself,'' she said.

Cooking Without Looking is partially underwritten by Nova Southeastern School of Optometry and is taped in Boynton Beach. The third season won't begin until sponsorship is complete. In the past, the show has aired in North Miami-Dade on Channel 15 and Comcast Channel 25. Previous shows can be viewed at

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