RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Anytime Jenson Larrimore is in the kitchen he is at home.
“I started early,” Larrimore smiles. “When I was old enough to pull up a chair to the stove.”
The love affair only evolved. At 13, he started learning everything he could from a local chef. A year later, he got a work permit to take his first job in a restaurant. By the time he graduated from high school, he was working at Buckhead’s Chophouse full-time and moved to Mamma Zu not long after.
“If you want to be a successful chef of any kind, you’ve got to work,” the now 34-year-old says.
While Larrimore’s star was rising in Richmond, he craved new culinary challenges. is travels across the country to learn regional cuisines eventually took him to Hawaii, where his life changed in a flash.
“They weren’t sure if I was going to wake up or not,” Larrimore says about the accident that left him with a traumatic brain injury and paralyzed from the chest down.
He had been riding a moped in Maui when a motorist struck him and sent him flying 60-feet. This October 3 is 10 years since it happened.
“An anniversary like this is something to be celebrated as much as it is something to be lamented,” he pauses. “It’s what made me who I am.”
Who he is today is a disability advocate and chef who does not let what he cannot do dictate what he can.
“I can’t hold a sheet pan out in front of me or a pot of boiling water or pull a dish out of the oven,” Larrimore describes the limitations he has worked to overcome.
He has mastered adaptive cooking and used it as part of his rehabilitation. Those early days post-accident cooking for himself, family and friends allowed him to sharpen skills to be in the kitchen today. He now volunteers his skills across the city, including at Positive Vibe Cafe.
“I and very few people have, I think, worked with a chef who was in a wheelchair, and I’m inspired daily,” says Positive Vibe Cafe Executive Chef Ernie LaBrecque. “Sometimes it’s hard to keep up.”
Larrimore uses his time in the community to share a message for everyone in a wheelchair who needs a voice.
“Engage the person, not the disability,” he says adamantly. “They want to be treated with empathy instead of sympathy. Nobody wants to be pitied.”
Larrimore certainly does not. He only wants to celebrate that his first love is something he can still share today.
“Having that human connection. That’s when I knew that I wanted to be cooking for the rest of my life, I’d be happy doing it for the rest of my life,” Larrimore explains what drives him in the kitchen. “Do something that is very natural and written into our DNA, which is eating food, breaking bread together.”
Larrimore is hosting a pop-up restaurant fundraiser Saturday, July 16 at Mobility Supercenter, 7450 Midlothian Turnpike in North Chesterfield. It begins at 6 p.m. All proceeds benefit Positive Vibe Cafe’s program to offer job training to people with disabilities.