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These masterchefs with disabilities whip up delights that will leave you craving for more!

As he watches a pan of chocolate bubble up on the gas, Sean Paul can barely contain his excitement. The 18-year-old is among nine special needs adults who has been getting lessons at Culinaris Cookery Course, a six-month certified diploma in food and beverage production. Its a cookery course for people with developmental disabilities, a first for Mumbai city.

"He loves to cook and is great with his hands", says Suzie Paul, mother to Sean, who has autism and is non-verbal. "Chocolate is a special favourite and every time there is a class that involves cooking with chocolate, he is always excited".

Wearing disposable caps and aprons, the youth go about their tasks intently, accompanied by parents and under the watchful gaze of Chef Curie Fernandes, who calls them "her pals".

"They have learned to make different types of breads, kormas, starters, desserts and rolls. We have to guide them well and explain properly. They don't like being corrected at times and they react better when their parents do it" - Chef Curie Fernandes

Having a parent around also helps them cope better with anxieties & fears

The youth have disabilities ranging from autism, cerebral palsy and Down syndrome. The course is free of cost and is being offered by NGO Veruschka Foundation in partnership with St Andrew's College, Bandra.

The idea of starting such a course was born out of a personal experience. NGO co-founder Tatyana Dias' late sister Veruschka had autism and as her sister grew older, the family struggled to find a centre that could meet Veruschka's needs. A culinary course, she felt, could enable people with developmental disabilities to be gainfully employed and contributing members of society.

"Food is something really positive that brings people together", says Dias. "Indians love food in any case so we decided we wanted to do something cookery-related. Besides its a skill that opens avenues for gainful employment. And even if they don't end up with a job, at least they will be able to cook for themselves."

Getting a certified diploma from a reputed institution like St Andrew's College makes it an even more winning proposition.

"I was concerned about possible injuries and wanted to make it safe for them", says Father Magi Murzello, Rector, St Andrew's College. A trip to France, he says, helped open his mind further. "I saw how how they dealt with special needs adults by opening up spaces to them, while here we are constantly supervising them."

The Culinaris Cookery Course students work in the same kitchen area as the other students of the catering college here, an experience that Father Murzello hopes will help promote sensitivity and inclusion.

"We want all our students to come here and work with them because going ahead there will be working in organisations and this will make them more aware about the needs of people with disabilities" - Father Magi Murzello, Rector, St Andrew's College

The bonding between all the students here is evident. As the catering students finish making their dishes for the day, they join the Culinaris team in tasting the food and offering tips.

The experience has helped open up the youth in a big way. "Vishal Srinisavan, who has autism, had behavioural issues and very sensitive to sounds when he joined", says Dias. "He would react if anything was out of order. Now he has become more patient".

Dias is confident that many of the youth here will find placement as many top city hotels have shown interest in hiring them when they finish the course in March this year.

"If we can enjoy food that is Goan and South Indian and celebrate that diversity, then we should be able to accept that there are people whose brains are wired differently. I think this is do-able with the right kind of initiative - Tatyana Dias, Co-founder, NGO Veruschka

Hard to beat that logic!

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