“I read somewhere that great cooking comes from people who have an innate capacity to taste, see and smell, but I totally disagree”. So says 56-year-old home cook Miranda Steduto, who was born with congenital anosmia (without the sense of smell).
She believes great cooking comes from people who love food, who cook with heart and those “who dance from the taste of food and say umm and ooh from a spoonful of heaven”.
The Eastern Cape-born home cook, blogger and photographer is a professional realtor in Cape Town. She is one of a rare few born with congenital anosmia. Anosmia, or ‘smell blindness’ as it is commonly known, is the loss of ability to detect one or more smells.
She only discovered that she was anosmic in 2018 after googling “people who can’t smell”. She was startled to discover that there was a name for her condition. “I always knew that I couldn’t smell, but never spoke about it and never acknowledged it nor was I aware that there was an entire community of anosmics.” she says.
“Great cooking comes from people who have an innate capacity to taste, see and smell, but I totally disagree”
This fiery cook has not allowed the absence of one sense hold her back. Instead, she says, she allows her other senses to take the lead in the kitchen. “I navigate my way through cooking, not through smell. We have so many other senses that I’m extremely grateful for. I can see the food, I get to touch the fresh produce – the feel is wonderful – I taste the food and I hear the sizzle,” Steduto says.
She believes being anosmic is her superpower. “I have never seen my anosmia as a crutch, actually I think it’s what sets me apart. I am curious and daring in the kitchen, because the smell doesn’t decide for me. I go with instinct and with what feels right at the time and from life’s experiences. “It’s that absolute gut feeling which never lets you down,” she elaborates.
Having found a name for her gift, Steduto turned to blogging in 2018. “I am a woman who is also a wife and mother and feeding my family is my way of showing how much I love them. This is a role in my life that I cannot imagine not fulfilling, because, in a sense, it is a way of keeping them alive,” she says.
She met and married her husband, who has Italian roots, in 1984. “My husband comes from a culture of food and so this really became who I was,” she says.
Her new Italian mother-in-law ignited her intrigue in flavour exploration. Although they did not speak the same language, they formed a connection through food.
“I learnt an entirely new cuisine of rolling out fresh pasta and being introduced to a different set of ingredients. My love of food definitely stems from a sense of togetherness, a time to bond, to create and to also grow my own self-esteem and confidence.” she says.
“I have never seen my anosmia as a crutch, actually I think it’s what sets me apart.”
“I didn’t speak Italian, she didn’t speak English, but our connection was food and through food we communicated. Looking back now, I believe her way of survival was really her cooking. (It was) almost therapeutic – a kind of healing and joy all at the same time,” Steduto adds.
Food icon Jaime Oliver is her kitchen hero. “He moves with such ease in the kitchen,” she says. She believes her father is the ultimate food legend.
He taught her true appreciation for food. “He taught me to never, ever waste food. He was acutely aware of the number of people that had no food. He fed many people whenever he could. He appreciated food from the ground, grown on trees and fishing. He was a simple man,” Steduto explains.
This cook has aspirations to write a book filled with all the heart-warming dishes on her blog My Anosmic Kitchen. Steduto advises aspiring chefs, home cooks and food bloggers to always “make do with what little they have.” She says cooking has taught her to be patient and forgiving of herself. And most importantly to be aware, proud of herself and grateful.
“Work with what you have, even if it means creating something entirely new and different. You need to understand that mistakes happen. Don’t beat yourself up, walk away for a while, come back and start again. It’s okay to try again. And most importantly, have fun in the kitchen!”