Guest post from Ronnie Murray, who is group head chef at Mark Hix’s London restaurants and has a shortened left arm. He’s backing Scope’s End the Awkward campaign, and stars in our new awkward moments film.
I always knew I wanted to be a chef, but it wasn’t so rock ‘n’ roll 20 years ago. Back then chefs were rarely seen, and definitely not heard! It was seen as a bit of a drop-out’s career, but it was all I ever wanted to do.
As a teenager, I wrote a letter to Michael Caines, a very famous Michelin-starred chef. He had lost his arm in a car accident just a year before I was getting into the kitchen.
I went and worked with him for a week, and had a fantastic time. And I realised that if Michael can earn a Michelin star, then damn sure I could get off my backside and do it as well!
Disability and me
I’ve never referred to my arm as a disability, because it doesn’t really set me back with anything. I’ve only discovered two things I can’t do – ride a motorbike, and play golf! It certainly hasn’t ever held me back in the kitchen.
But being described as a ‘disabled chef’ doesn’t bother me. I want to inspire people through good cooking and great food, but if I can also inspire a disabled person who maybe thinks they can’t be a chef, that’s all the better.
How I approach awkwardness
I’ve never really noticed too much awkwardness in the kitchen. No one in my kitchen would look at me differently from anyone else, because they know me. First encounters can be awkward, but it always wears off quickly.
But I have had fun with a few awkward moments – like where someone will say, ‘Do you need a hand…?’ and then get embarrassed.
A barman here said to me last week, ‘They’re biting my arm off for these canapés…’ I said, ‘You can’t say that to me, that’s out of line!’ I’ll always reel it in back quickly though. I’d never leave anyone hanging.
A lot of it is about your own presence and attitude. Most people are much more comfortable once you’ve shown them there’s nothing to be embarrassed about – just be confident, and they’ll take their cue from you.
Ending the awkward
It’s a bit of a sad state of affairs that the issue of awkwardness around disability still needs to be raised. I think we’re much better than we were, but there’s still more to do.
I made a YouTube cooking demo for Vice last year. The golden rule of YouTube is ‘never read the comments’ – so of course the first thing I did was look at all the comments.
Most of them were positive and about the food, but there were also some cheap jokes about the arm. It doesn’t really bother me, but it’s very narrow-minded.
We’ve moved a long way as a community over the past few years, though, and I think that’s important. Programmes like The Last Leg are a fantastic thing, and the 2012 Paralympics almost got more interest than the rest of the Olympics.
To overcome awkwardness, all I think you need to do is treat each disabled person as an individual, and remember there’s nothing to be scared of. After all, the worst that can happen is an awkward moment.
Check out Ronnie’s awkward moments film and read more awkward stories. Do you have an awkward story to share? Submit your awkward stories, and we’ll publish our favourites on our blog and social media.
Find out more about how Scope is ending the awkward this summer.