Rise issue 10 cover

A broader field of vision

Michael Erasmus doesn't let the fact that he's almost completely blind get in the way of fufilling his goals.

Michael-Erasmus-pie-maker

It only takes five minutes of talking with Michael Erasmus to feel the passion he has for his work. Making pies and running his business brings him the kind of excitement and happiness that many can only imagine. The 23-year-old doesn't let the fact that he's almost completely blind get in the way of pursuing his dreams and fulfilling his goals.

“I've never really doubted what I was doing. I didn't let fear get in the way – it's just getting out there and doing it" he says. "I think anyone is successful if they just try at something. Even if it doesn't work, you're successful if you try. I thought trying this out was better than just sitting at home. I could put myself to something and see what happened. Sometimes you just have to get on with it.”

Michael's deep connection with his senses is proof that anyone can experience ‘sight’ in perfect clarity. Listening to him talk about the “beautiful golden of the pastry” and the “rich, aromatic sauces”, you'd think that sight is an afterthought to being a chef; his attuned senses make him something of a pie artist instead.

Getting the business off the ground

After graduating with a New Zealand Certificate in Patisseries and a Certificate in Professional Cookery – the first blind person to do so – Michael made it his mission to create gourmet pies. Steering clear of mass-made batches and generic ingredients is what Michael believes make his pies so special. Artificial ingredients are shunned, and the pastry is made from scratch. He spends a lot of time perfecting the recipes, and of course, has some fun taste-testing along the way.

“My favourite to make are the steak pies. There are so many ways to make them, like steak and kidney, and steak and mushroom. The sauces that they're made with are really good" he says.

“Yes, those are the ones I like to eat too,” he adds, laughing.

Crediting his family with some of the gruntier tasks involved with getting a restaurant off the ground – moving boxes, heavy lifting, etc – Michael also recognises the New Zealand community as being supportive of his success. He wonders if this venture may have worked elsewhere. This is a great country that allows people like me to do these sorts of things, he says.

When broached with the idea that his blindness may have held him back in any way, Michael responds with an assertive “No”. If anything, he’s found opportunity in it.

“Because of my blindness, I've had the media interested in hearing my story. That attention has brought in more business, and made more people interested in what I’m doing with the shop.”

Extraordinary New Zealanders living life

The New Zealand Foundation of the Blind helped initiate the shop's media exposure. Their annual Blind Week Appeal newsletter featured Michael's story, along with other extraordinary New Zealanders who haven't let their loss of vision hold them back from grabbing all that life has to offer. The Foundation equips its over 11,000 members with adaptive technology and training to help them achieve their dreams and live independent lives.

"Like so many of our members, Michael's story is remarkable," says Kelly Hawkins, the Foundation's communications manager. "He's not letting a disability stop him from being the best that he can be, and that's so important."

Though impressive, Kelly doesn't think Michael's story is at all surprising. "So many members have absolutely incredible stories that are motivational, inspirational and humbling. We work with people who are hugely successful - world champion athletes, wine makers, endurance athletes."

Being given the opportunity to thrive

Success to some means having the opportunity to live a fulfilling life. The Foundation's work, empowering, and supporting blind and partially-sighted New Zealanders, helps make sure they have the same opportunities and choices as everyone else. By providing essential skills to help them move safely and confidently in the community, the Foundation helps visually-impaired people thrive in the workforce and manage independently with everyday tasks.

Some everyday tasks are more challenging than others, as Michael wields knives with a flourish to create his delicious pastries and sauces. Though doing so is obviously more difficult for him than a seeing person, it’s not something that would ever hold him back.

So what advice does Michael have for others who want to make a go of it? “Sometimes it's just as simple as making a phone call to get started. The important thing is that you're doing something. It's important that if you have a good idea, you follow it through and don't just keep it in your head.”

Michael shows that it's possible for everyone, no matter their circumstances, to live life in vivid colour.