This article, written by Dee Thompson was originally published on TheCooksCook.com and is reprinted with permission.
The Cook with the Mighty Left Arm is my son Michael Thompson.
Michael has been working in the restaurant industry since he was 15 years old, and now he is a cook at Kindred, an upscale restaurant in Atlanta that opened recently. What sets Michael apart from most cooks is that he has only one hand. He is what’s known as an RBE [right, below elbow] amputee. When he was 5 years old, in his birth country of Kazakhstan, he lost his right hand and wrist to frostbite.
He was adopted at age 10. After wearing a prosthetic for a while, he realized that life was actually easier without the prosthetic. Many people who are missing hands or even arms due to a congenital defect or to amputation choose not to use a prosthetic. Now Michael just figures out how to do things with one hand and what he calls his “short arm” or “nub.”
Below, I interview my son about how he handles being a cook with one hand.
Do you remember when I said, years ago, I couldn’t envision you working as a cook in a restaurant? Did you take that as a personal challenge?
Maybe subconsciously. Not consciously, to be honest. When people tell me I can’t do something, I like to show them that I can, actually. I learned there is no “can” unless you make it so.
What is the easiest thing for you to do in your job and what’s the hardest, considering that you only have one hand?
It’s easy to plate. I hate peeling potatoes! The potato juice gets on my shirt. Then I smell like potatoes.
When Chef asks you to do something new, do you view it as a challenge?
If I don’t know how to do it, maybe a little bit. I ask them to show me one time how it should look, and then I just do it my own way. Obviously, I have to do that.
What’s your favorite thing to cook at Kindred?
Fried chicken sandwich. Delicious. It’s on the menu one day a week. I’d say it’s better than Chick Fil-A.
What kitchen task has been the most difficult challenge for you to overcome and why?
The speed, to be honest. You have to cook quickly in a commercial kitchen. That’s a challenge for me. I do my best.
Tell me some of the comments or questions you’ve gotten in your role as a cook?
Most people don’t talk about me having one hand. A rare few will joke about it and that’s fine. Might as well laugh.
Do you see yourself as one day being a head Chef or a Kitchen Manager?
I’ve thought about it. I can see it. I’m not sure if that’s what I want. Working in a kitchen is very stressful. It’s like having your own kid. You have to take care of everything – plumbing, people issues, budgets, cleanliness. It’s a ton of responsibility.
What would you say to someone with one hand or one arm who wants a career as a cook? What advice would you give?
If that’s what you want, do it. Don’t let other people tell you your limits. Set your own goals. Figure out who you are. It’s a journey.
What makes the job at Kindred fun or interesting?
The people. Also, perspective. I’ve been looking at life better and more peacefully since I started at Kindred. It’s like a family, everyone I work with. One thing I really like at Kindred is that the managers listen to my feedback. A lot of times what I have to say is valuable. My input oftentimes gets incorporated into the bigger picture, like before we opened and I had a suggestion about how to plate one of our dishes, and my suggestion was followed. I felt good about that.