Ian's Edward's project known as "The Blind Chef" received a significant boost yesterday with Mr Edwards being award a scholarship from the Trevor Drayton Foundation. The scholarship funds awarded to Ian Edwards will help him through the next stage of the project including a web site and planning.
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When Newcastle chef Ian Edwards was told two years ago by his eye doctor that he would have to stop cooking and driving he was devastated. "I can't repeat what I said to him at the time," Mr Edwards said. "It was a big shock because I've cooked for 30 years, starting at the old Alcron (Restaurant) on The Hill at Church Street." Mr Edward's life took a dramatic turn after he suffered a detached retina in one eye, and further complications in both eyes. Despite the official blind diagnosis, Ian decided that 'rather than walk away from the career he loved with such a passion'. Instead, he decided to put his skills to use, to develop a programme to assist vision-impaired people pursue fulfilling employment in the hospitality industry. "It's been devastating but I'm not prepared to give up," he said. "I've had to take a back step for the last 12 or 18 months, but with the start of this project now actually getting a bit of traction it will be good." The project known as "The Blind Chef" received a significant boost yesterday with Mr Edwards being award a scholarship from the Trevor Drayton Foundation. The scholarship funds awarded to Ian Edwards will help him through the next stage of the project, including a web site and planning. The career of Trevor Drayton, a fifth-generation winemaker from the Hunter Valley, was tragically cut short in 2008, when he lost his life in an industrial accident during harvest. In 2009 a group of friends and associates decided that Trevor's memory should be honoured by the industry to which he had contributed so much. They established a scholarship programme, open to the next generation aspiring to a career in the wine and hospitality industry. The scholarships would be tailored to individual needs and help them further their careers and achieve the same level of excellence as Mr Drayton. Each year, in addition to the scholarships awarded in conjunction with TAFE, the committee considers applications from people involved in the industry who may not meet the criteria to apply for Scholarship funding through TAFE. The committee decided to award a scholarship this year to The Blind Chef, Mr Hamilton. "It was amazing to receive the accolade from the foundation," Mr Edwards said. "The Blind Chef project is a thing I came up with, probably two years ago. "It was devastating for me to lose my sight after cooking for 30 years." Since serving out his apprenticeship at The Alcron, Mr Edward's career has taken him through many of the city's best-known restaurants: The Ambassador Restaurant, Noahs on the Beach, The South Steyne floating restaurant, Cafe Continental and Ducks Crossing. "I've met a lot of people along my way through," he said. "And I've spoken to teachers recently who train and teach people with vision impairment." He said he was shocked to discover how many people in the Hunter were affected by vision impairment, especially younger people who would not have access to the same level of experience he accrued while sighted. "I have a lot to give," Mr Edwards said. "I want to give them an opportunity to have a future in hospitality, because some of them do it at school and train up to Year 12, but then after that there is not a lot open for them." Mr Edwards and friends in the hospitality industry are working behind the scenes to develop a training facility, with the help of not-for-profit and other community organisations, where students might be apprenticed to work on a branded line of marinades and sauces. "What we intend to do, and we'll know this week, we have a kitchen in Newcastle West that will be used as a training facility to produce products for The Blind Chef brand," he said. There are talks taking place with the Catholic Diocese of Newcastle and DARA's Van (Development and Relief Agency). DARA 'provides practical assistance, an opportunity for socialisation and a pathway to integration via access to educational and vocational programmes'. "We do have in process a relationship to work with the Catholic (Diocese and) DARA'S Van, that feed the homeless here in the city," Mr Edwards said. "I'm hoping that relationship develops, and I will then produce food for DARA's Van, as well as my own stuff in their kitchen." Mr Edwards is adamant that participants in any future training facility will obtain formal qualifications and a wage. "(Participants will) be apprenticed or trainee-shipped," he said. "There's got to be something at the end of it, and they have to earn a real wage, like a first-year apprentice's wages, $350 a week. "That's what they'll earn. It's not going to be a tokenism set-up." Story by Anthony Scully and Jenny Marchant.