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15 minutes with The Disabled Chef James Coke

James Coke and family

I want to encourage people who are not confident in the kitchen to stick on that apron and get cooking

James Coke, diagnosed with MS over 20 years ago, tells us about the inspiration behind his blog The Disabled Chef and shares some top tips for cooking with a chronic condition. 

When were you diagnosed with MS and how have you dealt with your diagnosis?

I was diagnosed in 1997 at the age of 32, but remember my symptoms started back in my early 20’s, with problems with my left leg. When the neurologist finally broke the news it was a major hammer blow. Deep down I knew it was coming, but I was still angry and fearful of the future. Once the dust had settled, I immersed myself in my enemy (MS), found some inner-strength and vowed to ‘Hold the line’. Since then I’ve climbed some big mountains metaphorically speaking, and helped a lot of people, which I am really proud of. I still look in that mirror every night though, reminding myself 21 years later, that there are still many peaks to climb and that whatever the odds – you never give in!

When did you first discover a love for cooking?

My mum was a great cook and food was a big part of my life. I was the youngest of a big family and dinner was a magical time. It brought us all together, especially if older siblings were staying. That and Fawlty Towers inspired me to do home economics at school and then a catering course at college, which I later dropped out of. However, my interest in cooking didn’t stop. Wherever I have lived or travelled, I’d check out food and flavours and take those with me on my cooking journey. 

How has it helped with your MS?

Well I can’t say cooking has cured me, but a balanced home cooked meal plan, has definitely helped. I love to experiment with herbs and spices, not just for their flavour but healing qualities too. I take pride in my prep work, which is often difficult because of my dexterity, but the end results are worth it when the aromas and food start to marry- it’s a type of therapy if you like. The eating of your work is then the icing on the cake, which can only be good for the body and soul, whether you are sharing it or not.

Tell us about your blog, The Disabled Chef

The Disabled Chef is a website that brings you 100’s of recipes from around the world that I’ve cooked at home. Each recipe is costed to the gram, so you can get a definitive shopping list with absolutely no wastage. By using the site, it will save you money on your groceries and provide a balanced and healthy food plan. All the recipes are easy to follow so hopefully the site will encourage more people to get cooking. The inspiration for the idea came from some research I read, highlighting that on average each of us can only cook six meals from scratch, which shocked me. With record levels of obesity and people clearly missing out, on an abundance of tastes and flavours, I thought I’d better do my bit and try and redress the balance. The name is a play on words if you like as it is encouraging anyone who is not confident in the kitchen to stick on that apron and get cooking.

What is your top tip for cooking with a chronic condition?

Try and conserve your energy. I’m stronger in the morning when my dexterity is at a peak, I therefore try and do most of my cooking or preparation in that period.  I can then just heat up the food later which frees me up for other chores and takes away any stress if I feel fatigued. The other top tip is use a food processor for chopping vegetables like onions, as it just speeds things up and can save a lot of hassle.

What advice would you give someone who’s just been diagnosed with MS?

Ok it’s a scary time. It’s life changing and it’s impossible not to feel bleak about the future, but it’s certainly not the end of the world. Everyone ends up having a monkey on their back at some stage in their lives and MS is a big one, but you can carry it. Always try to be positive and find value with your achievements. However small they are, each one is a stepping stone leading to something better and you’ve got to keep on that path. Finally, don’t ever surrender. I’ve learnt many things since diagnosis but mainly that and it is something I’ll take to the grave with me.