Allie found this article in today's Democrat: Silver Bistro chef must 'cook from smell' Don White lost much of his vision, but his keen cooking powers launched him into downtown eatery, slot on TV By Janie Nelson . Special to the Democrat . Published: July 06. 2011 2:00AM Don White has known good times as a chef. The Maine native learned his craft in small restaurants throughout Europe while working as an artist. He's rubbed elbows with celebrity chefs such as Emeril Lagasse and Gordon Ramsey. He was the chef in a retirement community for millionaires in Los Gatos, Calif. http://gannett.gcion.com/?adlink/5111/225320/0/0/AdId=-3;BnId=0;itime=998146 280;key=Silver+Bistro+chef+must+cook+from+smell; He's also known bad times. In March 2001 the master chef, who now runs the Silver Bistro restaurant in the Claude Pepper Building, had open-heart surgery. He developed an aneurysm, which left him completely blind for six months. Some of his sight has returned, but not enough for him to count on his sight when de-boning a fish or removing a pot of simmering stock from the stove. "The way I see is like when you were a kid and swimming under water and open your eyes," White said. "I can see, but not details." He also lost some of his fine motor skills, which means he can whip up a meringue but not write his name. He developed diabetes. His life was on a downward spiral. "I couldn't get unemployment," said While, who will soon turn 60. "I couldn't get anything." At one point after moving to Tallahassee, he said, he was kicked out of his house and lived under a tree. Passion plus skills His luck changed when he chanced upon the Vision World Foundation, which sponsors the television show "Cooking Without Looking," the first cooking program for the visually impaired that will soon be featured on the Cooking Channel (Comast cable 122). White is now one of three co-hosts. In his audition for the show he made shrimp and grits. "He gave out samples, and people cut in line three times," said Renee Rentmeester, founder and president of the foundation. When shooting a show in Miami, Rentmeester said, White blindfolded the chef from the Hotel Betsy, a posh boutique hotel on South Beach, and taught him how to slice an onion. "The chef was so nervous," she remembered. Luckily everyone came out with fingers intact and onions perfectly prepared. But it takes more than cooking skills to make a TV chef. You have to be entertaining and knowledgeable. Anyone who spends 5 minutes with Don White knows he's both. He's ebullient and funny. He's passionate, about both cooking and equal opportunity for people with disabilities. "About 87 percent of blind people do not work because people say, 'For chrissakes, you're blind, what makes you think you can do the job?'" White said, his frustration showing as his face reddens. White knows he can do his job and do it well, and he said it hasn't been difficult to change the way he does things. "You cook from sound," White said. "You cook from smell. There is a certain smell when you know something is done." He recalled a story from his training in Europe, when a chef, in a prescient moment, blindfolded him and made him cook a whole meal. "My whole perception of cooking opened up like a flower," he said. "It put everything in place. "Before you use herbs, you have to chew them," he explained. "Then you have to chew them with the food to see what it tastes like." Grits to garlic Since March, White, with the help of his brother David, has been serving breakfast and lunch from the airy atrium in the Claude Pepper Building. The state Division of Blind Services provides the restaurant, which is open to the public, and the large professional kitchen from which White creates specialties such as pancake poppers that have become a favorite on his breakfast menu. For less than $2, diners can have one of his cat-claw biscuits with bacon, the top seller, plus a cup of coffee. Of course, other breakfast staples, such as eggs "any way you want them" and grits cooked to creamy perfection are ready for the asking. The lunch menu - nothing over $6 - features an array of sandwiches, plus a specialty sandwich of the day and a hot entree. One day last week, as the sandwich special, White butterflied a chicken breast and pounded it out till it was of even thickness. He topped the chicken with provolone cheese and began rolling it up. Just before he reached the end, he put down two pieces of bacon, lengthwise and finished rolling. "The bacon holds it together," he said. He then cooked the rollup on the grill and served it in a hotdog bun. For the entree, he made his chicken stew with vegetables and garlic. "I cook the chicken raw and pull it off the bone," he said. "Some people would open a can, but that's not me." Friday is seafood day at the Bistro. The entree consists of a piece or two of fish (catfish or cod), a crab cake ("better than Emeril's") and shrimp. Alongside are fries and coleslaw kicked up with horseradish. White is hoping to get his rotisserie up and running soon so that he can sell roasted chicken, ribs and briskets for take-out. He also wants to begin catering and has high hopes for his new TV show, which will feature some episodes shot from his downtown Tallahassee restaurant. "We want to have guests on the show," said producer Rentmeester. "We want to give recipes and special tips to help people get around the kitchen." White certainly knows how to do that, and more. He can get people excited about eating. "Food oozes from people," he enthused, "the love and the passion - it satisfies people's emotional needs and gives them something to look forward to." State workers can surely use a dose of that these days. 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