Anna Moyer doesn’t particularly enjoy cooking.
It’s not that she’s against the idea, per se — it’s just that she’s not really for it either.
Maintenance. That’s what it’s all about. You may have stopped for gas on the way to work this morning, but it probably wasn’t the highlight of your day.
Anyway, as a means of staying alive, cooking is totally fine.
The only reason it’s even worth mentioning is that since 2010, Moyer has been the principal figure behind “Your Special Chef,” a website that uses visual recipes to help teach food prep skills to people with disabilities.
Every person has some kind of talent and something that they’re gifted with.
On Moyer’s site, the delicate equation behind a cheese quesadilla is broken down as a series of simple images — a taco shell, some cheese, another taco shell — becoming more detailed as the instructions progress toward the requisite high-intensity action sequence (using a kitchen knife to cut your snack into fours).
“The idea is they use something called task analysis,” Moyer said.
Learning how to break any activity down into its most basic components — especially domestic skills — can help people with special needs achieve a greater degree of independence.
To Moyer, that is vastly more exciting than a cheese quesadilla.
“Every person has some kind of talent and something that they’re gifted with,” Moyer said.
Trust her – she’s almost a doctor. Moyer is in the process of earning a doctoral degree in human genetics at Johns Hopkins University, which will one day look great on a wall somewhere next to her master’s degree in biology.
Home décor aside, Moyer hopes to use her studies to better understand the biological mechanisms underlying genetic disorders — like her brother Sam’s Down syndrome.
Before we go any further, it seems worth mentioning that Sam is also ambivalent when it comes to matters of the stomach.
“He doesn’t like cooking that much. He would prefer that someone else make his food for him,” Moyer said.
Which is fine. “Your Special Chef” isn’t really about cooking — conceptually the topic just seemed to lend itself to better visuals than how to wash a load of whites.
I knew that I wanted the project to be sustainable because I knew that it wouldn’t be my project forever.
Moyer originated the site as a class project. David Anderson, the spiritual life director at Grace Prep High School, acted as a sounding board.
“It was a transformative idea because it took the experience she had with her brother and broadened it to others,” Anderson said.
That included Lisa Pazak’s life skills class at Mount Nittany Middle School, where Moyer field-tested some of her visual recipes.
Pazak said Moyer understands that all individuals, regardless of any label that might be applied, can benefit from a good starting point.
“The belief that something can be done and a road map of how to start is a key catalyst to change,” Pazak said.
Speaking of change, the website has undergone its fair share of facelifts over the years.
One of Anderson’s favorite new(ish) features on the site is the recipe creator, which allows users to upload images to create their own visual recipes.
It’s a shiny bell and/or whistle, to be sure, but the interactive function may also be something that ultimately allows the project to live on long beyond Moyer’s day-to-day involvement.
Websites, after all, are never really finished. They just keep evolving — until they don’t.
Moyer hasn’t really given much thought to where Your Special Chef can go next. There are other horizons she’d like to explore, new endeavors that beckon for her attention.
“I knew that I wanted the project to be sustainable because I knew that it wouldn’t be my project forever,” Moyer said.
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