“CHAIR THE LOVE”. Orlando Sentinel Feature

Orlando based journalist Amy Drew Thompson and I were talking about life in these challenging times. She asked me if I was doing much cooking. I had to laugh because our home kitchen looks like it would be the test kitchen for a cooking school meets a TV production studio these days. Since I can’t do the ‘in person’ cooking classes I’ve loved for years I’m taking my passion for sharing the lifetime of things I’ve learned about cooking and putting them on “Instagram TV”. Just search for my name on Instagram if you are curious to see a few.  About 4 or 5 episodes a week are what we do from home. Some are what I call ‘Silent Shorts’ where I let the camera simply record what I’m doing in the kitchen. No words. Just a visual ‘how to’ do something I think the audience might enjoy doing themselves. They have proven to be surprisingly popular! I got over 20,00o views of an old fashioned technique for carving a mushroom cap that I had to do as part of my job as a grill cook when I was in the very early days of my career! And then more involved videos where I will take a make a dish and talk to the camera as I do. I have not set the kitchen on fire yet… though we did have one pretty good flare up when I deglazed a steak with some brandy!

The conversation I had with Amy brought up a topic about a charity cooking class I was going to be doing soon with a wonderful organization out of Central Florida called, “Chair the Love”. Amy, (God bless her) wrote about it for the Orlando Sentinel and that is what you can read below!


“….. Augie Byllott would likely agree. And in his case, chef Norman Van Aken is one of them.

Byllott, a real estate professional, is a member of the advisory board for Chair the Love, a Longwood-based nonprofit that provides wheelchairs to those who need them, locally and abroad. Chair the Love began as part of the Wheelchair Foundation, spinning off into its local incarnation in 2015.

The organization brings containers of wheelchairs to people in need around the world — those with conditions or injuries that will prevent them from walking for the rest of their lives. They deliver chairs to schools in Central Florida to help students with temporary needs as well as build ramps at people’s homes.

“In this country, you don’t typically see people crawling in the street, but we’ve been to Nicaragua and Mexico and Belize … ” Byllott and his wife recently traveled to distribute wheelchairs in the Philippines. “We’ve seen levels of poverty that you can’t even equate to here. It’s been an incredible experience.”

In the Philippines, a 17-year-old girl with brittle bone disease (Osteogenisis imperfecta) receives a brand-new wheelchair courtesy of Chair the Love. - Original Credit: Chair the Love - Original Source: Chair the Love
In the Philippines, a 17-year-old girl with brittle bone disease (Osteogenisis imperfecta) receives a brand-new wheelchair courtesy of Chair the Love. – Original Credit: Chair the Love – Original Source: Chair the Love (Audrey Byllott / Courtesy photo)

Passionately, sometimes tearfully, he related stories. Of children and of people in their 30s, 40s, 50s who needed wheelchairs but had never had one. Of a man with a broken back who, with a chair, could go back to work and feed his family. Another of two brothers in Guatemala who traveled together — the ambulatory one hooking his arms through that of the other, a double-amputee.

“He would lean forward and walk with his brother on his back, staring up to the sky,” Byllott explains. “He was 65. How long had he been carrying his brother around like that?”

Van Aken was moved by Byllott’s passion and signed on happily in the hopes of resurrecting the organization’s biggest annual fundraiser, a dinner event that the pandemic would have prevented from happening.

“We had to get creative,” says Byllott, whose colleague suggested something virtual. “It was genius, and Cuisine for the Cause was born.”

The event will allow guests — the basic ticket is $50 — into an hourlong event where they can cook alongside Van Aken as he instructs, entertains and shares cooking tips. Byllott will emcee, facilitating questions and keeping things jovial, which he most certainly is.

“He’s so passionate,” says Van Aken, who will also teach a dessert course for VIP ticketholders ($150 — which covers the cost of one wheelchair, includes extra goodies, as well), “He’s so grateful to be able to help people. I got goosebumps after speaking with him and I’m so excited to be able to host the class and help them with their mission.”

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