Amid the hustle and bustle of the kitchen at Marcel’s, a fine dining restaurant in Washington, D.C., one member of the staff is immune to the noise. It’s David Uzzell, the 28-year-old saucier responsible for such delicacies as pan-seared foie gras or mushroom mornay sauce.
Uzzell is a deaf chef — a rarity in the vast majority of restaurant kitchens. When chef and owner Robert Wiedmaier needs to get Uzzell’s attention while expediting during dinner service, he pokes him in the shoulder.
“David gets poked a lot,” says Wiedmaier. “There might be a dent in his shoulder from my finger by now.”
It’s not all poking, according to Uzzell. “We’ve come up with some workarounds,” he says — or writes, using one of the many notepads that are permanently kept at his station to help with more lengthy communications. Having completely lost his hearing by the time he was a year old, Uzzell is used to having to figure out how to communicate to a hearing audience.
“I’ve never seen somebody text so fast,” says Wiedmaier.
Photo: Kristen Hartke for NPR
Caption: David Uzzell at work in the kitchen at Marcel’s. Uzzell has a written list of daily tasks from chef and owner Robert Wiedmaier at his station, and his ever-present notepad and pencil on the shelf above serves as communication tools for more specific instructions.