When Christine Ha, the blind contestant from the television show “MasterChef” recently won the cooking show, many marveled over her grace, skill, and determination.
Becoming a chef and having to deal with scalding pans and razor sharp knives is not the first occupation that comes to mind when you think of someone who has little or no vision. However chasing a dream is universal, and some are forced to overcome more obstacles than the rest.
On Sunday, Oct. 7, Upper West Restaurant in Santa Monica will host a special benefit for the non-profit Junior Blind of America.
The organization helps children and adults who are blind, visually impaired, or multi-disabled to achieve independence.
One of their most successful programs, STEP (the Student Transition Enrichment Program), helps students ages 16-22 develop work readiness skills. This is achieved through group classes and internships with supervised instruction directly aimed at the individual interests of each student.
Upper West’s Chef Nick Shipp approached Junior Blind with the idea of hosting a special event. Together, Junior Blind Director of Marketing Lisett Chavarela and Chef Nick created an interactive fundraiser.
Under the direction of Chef Nick, eight students will gain first-hand culinary knowledge and on the job training in a professional kitchen. He will supervise the Junior Blind students in preparing a four-course meal for 50 people.
One of the challenges that blind youths encounter is obtaining employment.
“As much as 50 percent of blind students drop out of high school,” Chavarela said. “Without a high school diploma or college education, many of them are unable to seek or sustain employment. Consequently, 70 percent of all blind or visually impaired adults are unemployed.”
She is excited for the students to have this opportunity to gain exposure to a field they may not have considered.
“It is our hope to reverse this trend of high unemployment within the blind community,” she said.
Helping the blind is something that Chef Nick holds close to his heart since he was born completely blind in one eye.
“I do have sight in one eye and I’ve always felt blessed to have been given that,” he said. “People have always asked me the question, ‘How do you deal with that?’ I’ve never known what it’s like to have sight in both eyes, so I guess it’s pretty natural to me.”
He joked that being blind in one eye had made his other senses stronger.
“I just want to bring awareness and show these blind folks that becoming a chef is possible… anything is possible,” he said.
The event takes place on Sunday, Oct. 7 from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Call for a reservation at 310.586.1111. The price of $55 per person will include a four-course meal. Upper West Restaurant has generously agreed to donate 100 percent of all sales to Junior Blind of America.
Upper West Restaurant is located at 3321 Pico Blvd. in Santa Monica.