Two of the most incorrect things anyone has ever said about me because I was born without a hand: that I couldn’t drive and I couldn’t cook. By car, the only thing I’m not great at is parallel parking, but that’s just because I’m a Florida jerk. As for the food, let’s say there’s practically a waiting list for dinner at my house. The kitchen is where I pour both my anxiety and my enthusiasm for life into various culinary projects, using my favorite tools.
Kitchen utensils don’t need to be marketed as accessible appliances to work well with one hand. In fact, some intentionally one-handed or ultra-convenient designs work very poorly for users with disabilities, injuries, or other dependence on one hand. As a one-handed home cook, I’ve found that some of my most trusted kitchen utensils are only incidentally usable with one hand.
On a sleepy, gray afternoon, I could gather the ingredients for a scrumptious blue corn cornbread using a wide silicone spatula and a large rubber-bottomed bowl from the set of 3 piece stainless steel mixing bowls from OXO. The bowl’s heavy weight and rubber coating keep it firmly on the counter, while other lighter stainless steel bowls can spin and wobble from mixing. (These lightweight mixing bowls can work well in busy restaurant kitchens, in part because they spin so easily, but they require active use of both hands to keep the bowl from spinning and landing on the floor. ) Also, the rim of the OXO bowl has a small lip, which allows me to tilt the bowl upwards without the need for fingers or downward pressure to hold it in place.
Sometimes a tool that doesn’t advertise useful features for a one-handed cook can even outperform another tool that does. For example, the OXO Smooth Edge can opener doesn’t boast this fact, but its handles stay locked enough that I don’t need to grab them while turning the knob. This makes it more functionally accessible than the Zyliss Lock N’ Lift, which advertises a locking mechanism but still requires a firm grip on the handles.
Other tools are useful simply because they allow cooks with different limbs to work as quickly as cooks with two hands. During prep work, a common professional cooking technique is to use a bench scraper, like the one I use from Ateco, to move chopped and diced ingredients from the cutting board to the stove. This is great advice for any home cook, but it’s especially helpful for the one-handed cook.
Of course, there are also tools specially designed for one-handed use. While I love a lot of my kitchen utensils, my favorite utensils are my Knork dinner “forks” (yes, that’s what they sound like – a knife and fork hybrid). Their design is friendly for one-handed eaters as well as anyone who simply refuses to use knives while eating. If you brutally force the dull side of a fork into your chicken breasts, crab cakes and waffles, rocking your utensil back and forth across your plate, Knorks are for you. To accommodate this common feeding style, Knork designed the sides of its fork with beveled edges and widened the neck to create a finger platform from which you can apply force when you” slice”. Knork says it’s designed its cutlery to complement the way people “naturally eat,” but cutlery and Knork’s Eco Party Plate, which features a wine glass cutout so you can have “one hand free to cut your food”, are also great designs for people like me and others with limited dexterity.
Yet not all intentionally one-handed designs are equally successful. Some are more concerned with their apparent ergonomics than with the proper execution of a task. Take, for example, the bagel guillotine, which my mother lovingly bought for me to outfit my very first college dorm room. The first thing I noticed: its fearsome violence. The shiny V-shaped blade looks sharp and pointed enough to do its job with the use of one hand. But there’s a reason these things aren’t found in any proper bagel – when this blade descends vertically onto a reasonably cool bagel standing on its side, the blade simply crushes the bagel’s perfect curve into its own hole, creating a face clown character smiling from the misery of bagels. Bagels are best cut when they are flat, with one hand holding the bagel in place while the other hand slices parallel to the cutting board. A one-handed approach that replicates this action might simply involve placing a moderately heavy weight like a panini press on the bagel. With designs aimed at one-handed users, I don’t just mean to do the thing, I mean to do the right thing.
When faced with time-consuming and repetitive tasks in the kitchen, such as continuously stirring risotto, one-handed cooks cannot switch hands to reduce fatigue. A few years ago, many online reviewers mocked the Üutensil Automatic Pot Stirrer for enabling what they considered chronic lazy people, even though it was clear that many people with disabilities could greatly benefit from a stirrer. Automatique. Unfortunately, the tool did not live up to its potential: I tried the product and found that the message “Look, no hands!” the battery-powered stirrer lost all its power as soon as it encountered the slightest trace of stickiness. While it can move thinner liquids – which are unlikely to get stuck or burn on the bottom of the pan anyway – it’s useless for homemade sauces and creams, let alone risotto. Until a better automatic shaker comes along, tagging someone else’s arm will remain my method of choice.
Ultimately, the most accessible tools of all are those that are exceptionally well-made: a sharp and durable chef’s knife, dependable kitchen shears, and a commercial-grade nonstick skillet. A good tool can hold up to years of both conventional and more creative use – bench scrapers acting as second hands, bowls staying in place during the most vigorous one-handed whipping. And good, thoughtful design — one that makes tasks faster and easier — often works for people with disabilities, too. As always, keep your best tools guarded and, as Julia Child wrote, hidden “from fools and non-cooks.”