By: Seth Johnson

Chef Collin Hilton is seen working one-on-one with a group of students as they prepare chocolate chip cookie dough. Chef Carl Chambers is also seen standing in the background as well.Over the course of the 2024 spring semester at Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (ISBVI), Cunningham Restaurant Group (CRG) test kitchen chefs Carl Chambers, Collin Hilton, and Joni Manes made several visits to ISBVI for a series of cooking classes with members of the No Limits Leadership Club — a partnership that was initiated by the Indiana Blind Children’s Foundation.

From pasta with red sauce to bacon, eggs, and pancakes, the CRG chefs taught the ISBVI students how to make several mainstay meals, walking them through all the necessary steps to completion.

Having now had some time to reflect, all three of the CRG chefs say they gained a lot from their experience working with the ISBVI students. In particular, Hilton says preparing for the cooking classes helped him look at his day-to-day kitchen conduct a little differently.

“For me, so much of doing it was like a cerebral process,” Hilton says. “I’ve never really instructed somebody on how to do something, so it makes you take a step back and walk through the motions. Between us chefs or people who have experience cooking, I can just be like, ‘Hey. Grab a knife and cut it this way.’ But when you actually break it down, it gives you an opportunity to back up and rethink, ‘Why do I do it this way?’ I thought that was a really cool aspect of the process.”

As a mother of adolescent children, Manes especially enjoyed seeing the ISBVI students’ various passions be on display over the course of the cooking classes.

“That age group is specific to me — I have kids that age so it’s just really fun to see what they’re interested in and how they handle that kind of interaction,” Manes says. “We weren’t part of their everyday life. We were strangers to them, to some degree. Coming in and watching them get comfortable with us and seeing them want to learn was really cool. We loved it.”

Despite having varied levels of prior kitchen experience, Chambers says all the Leadership Club students were fully engaged in each of the cooking classes.

Chef Joni of Cunningham Restaurant Group is seen assisting ISBVI student Nate as he works on chopping an onion. Both appear to be very focused on the task at hand.“The best part for me was the fact that everybody really participated,” he says. “When you do something with a group that big, you usually will have a few that don’t want anything to do with it. But really, the fact that everybody was into it and participated was really cool.”

At the end of the day, all three of the CRG chefs were thrilled with the ISBVI students’ involvement in each of the cooking classes.

“You always have your worries, like, ‘How am I going to articulate this to these kids?’ But they were great,” Hilton says. “I was impressed with how quick of learners they were. They just dove in and went for it.”

The Indiana Blind Children’s Foundation is currently in the process of raising funds to build an adaptive kitchen at ISBVI, which will also coincide with the start of a new culinary arts program at the school. Having now witnessed the ISBVI students’ passion for cooking firsthand, Chambers says he’s excited to see what impact the culinary arts program at ISBVI will have going forward.

“I love the vision that [IBCF executive director] Laura Alvarado has for trying to get a new facility and trying to incorporate this into a class,” Chambers says.

Make a donation to the adaptive kitchen buildout today by following this link.




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