Manhattan Beach chef Darren Weiss teaches deaf children how to cook at his restaurant

Summarized by Rachel Janis, staff writer

On Tuesday in his restaurant in downtown Manhattan Beach, Darren Weis, who has hearing loss, taught a group of children the basics of owning a restaurant, cooking, and eating healthy. The group, including students Matthew Panameno and Jasmin Ostrander, 8, were accompanied by Kathy Buckley, a deaf comedienne and actress.

The children are a part of an after-school program through No Limits for Deaf Children. The program hopes to develop and improve the language skills of low-income children with hearing loss.

Michelle Christie, founder of No Limits for Deaf Children, reflects, “All the kids are so excited because they’ve never met a chef before… Now they meet someone like them, who has hearing loss and owns a restaurant, who understand the struggles these kids are going through. It’s really exciting.”

At the head of a long table containing a variety of ingredients, Weis signed to the children to explain each food item.

“We’re gonna make sliders. It’s like a small hamburger,” Buckley said to the group of children, all of them wearing large chef hats and aprons.

Weiss asked why the meat is so tender by signing, and Buckley relayed the answer: “They massage the cow!”

Christie said that the biggest struggle for deaf children is developing vocabulary and language skills. Since all the children have profound hearing loss, they are unable to hear many sounds, such as if an airplane were to fly right beside them, she said. However, many use hearing devices or have cochlear implants.

Weiss taught the group restaurant terms and sounded out some terms that are a little trickier. He also uses humor in his lessons, such as when Weiss asked the kids to count how many fingers they had after he brought out some kitchen knives.

“After you’re done cooking, make sure you have 10 left,” he laughed.

“Having things hands-on for the kids, they really start to absorb the language a lot more than me just showing them photos of (cooking) knives,” said Christie. “Look how happy they are. They’re really happy.”

The lessons at Darren’s restaurant came out of an idea of a “career day” to show to the eight-to-twelve-year-old children that there are no limits to being deaf. “Having the opportunity to partner with an organization like No Limits for Deaf Children and ho a fun career day with the kids makes this experience that much more special for me,” reflected Weiss. “As a person with a hearing impairment, I wanted to give back to a cause that is very close to my heart.”

Darren’s restaurant also held a benefit dinner for the nonprofit on Tuesday night.

Christie said that many kids don’t even know their own names when they first enter the program, and some can only speak a few words.

“They’re catching up on language all the time,” said Christie. “Some kids come to our center and are two or three grades behind. All of these kids love food, so if you teach through food, you’re going to get a lot of engagement.”

Throughout the lesson, Christie walked around the restaurant to praise the children as they cooked.

“Today is one of those days they’re never going to forget,” she said.

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