Chef at New Life seeing beyond disability

By Chad Klassen
February 10, 2016 - 4:56pm Updated: February 10, 2016 - 6:57pm

KAMLOOPS — Kamloops is celebrating White Cane Week, a campaign to bring about more awareness to blindness and vision impairment.

WATCH ABOVE: Full story by reporter Chad Klassen

It's estimated over half a million Canadians are affected by blindness or some kind of vision loss, including Dieter Jennen, a chef at New Life Community Kamloops. 

Four days a week, Jennen makes lunch for some of the city's needy, and he does so with visual impairment, not able to see clearly looking straight ahead. 

"I see pretty much like normal people, except I don't have my centre vision. I've lost that through macro dystrophy," says Jennen.

Macular dystrophy is a condition that causes one to lose central vision, something Jennen's been dealing with for the past 20 years.

"When I go into a room, I depend more on my peripheral vision, which is all around you, whereas a normal person concentrates more on what they focus on."

Jennen was born in Germany and came to Canada with his family when he was eight. After spending five years in Vancouver, the family moved again, to Wallachin. 

Then at 17 years old, Jennen got his start in the kitchen in Cache Creek. 

"At that time, I got a job washing dishes at the Husky," he says. "I was always put with this cook that was lazy and liked to drink. He'd have me do all his cooking for him, so after about a month of that, the boss noticed I was doing all the cooking, so he said, 'Dieter, why don't you become a cook.'"

He's been one ever since, earning his Red Seal Chef designation at BCIT in 1986. It was 10 years later when his vision starting failing him. 

He can't drive and has to take the bus everyday. But he's never let it stop him from doing what he loves, and that's cooking, and the blurry vision doesn't affect the final product. 

"I don't use recipes that much, so I don't need my vision to read recipes so much," Jennen says. "I go a lot with what I've done before and my taste buds. That's always a good show of what to do. With my job, I can do more of it without reading the fine print."

Jennen is going to keep cooking and serving people as long as he can. 

"You can do one of two things: you can either have the attitude like, 'oh dear God, I've lost my vision. I can't see, I can't do anything.' Or you can say, 'let's see what I can do, and get out there.' You may fail, but you might succeed."

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