La Crosse cooking guru misses cut for Favorite Chef Final Four, but grows in confidence, resolve to help others

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Richard Chrz's adapted wheelchair can elevate and lower, which helps him practice his culinary skills. (Favorite Chef photo)

LA CROSSE, Wis., (WKBT) — Richard Chrz of La Crosse didn’t make the Final Four in the Favorite Chef competition, but he says the experience increased his culinary confidence and redoubled his resolve to be an advocate of adaptive cooking.
The 48-year-old Chrz uses a wheelchair because of weakening in his leg and arm muscles when his Lupus evolved into a nerve disease. He had hoped to use part of the $50,000 grand prize to enlarge the bathroom in the house where he and his wife, Renee, live with their two black Labradors, Cooper and Crosby.
Enlarging the bathroom to accommodate his wheelchair is a priority, Renee said, adding, “It’s a matter of safety and independence for Richard. It’s not a luxury — he needs a bathroom to function.”
Also on the to-do list is to make their kitchen more accessible for Richard and his wheelchair.
After making the semi-finals of the online contest two weeks ago but missing the cut from 64 to four for the finals Friday, Chrz said, “Overall, a couple things I really enjoyed were, in looking at the professional chefs and their plating and other things, I realized I can do what a lot of them do — not all, but some.
“I can take that skill set and move it more in the direction of adaptive cooking,” he said.
Voters in the contest, in which finals balloting continues through Thursday, can pick their faves in two ways: once a day for free and donate a dollar apiece for additional votes. Favorite Chef says it will donate 25 percent of the proceeds to Feeding America, the largest U.S. organization fighting domestic hunger through its national food bank network.
Although Chrz wasn’t told his final tally in the semis, he said he appreciated “feeling love from so many people, and some so far away — even South America.”
“The special support really gave me the confidence” to pursue his own adaptive cooking and advocate it for others who face physical challenges, he said.
“I hate it on ‘American Idol,’ when someone loses and says it’s the end of the line for them,” Chrz said, adding that Favorite Chef left him hungry to pursue his original goals.
He and Renee are on a couple of boards with adaptive activity goals, he said, and “I will see if they are interested in my giving adaptive cooking lessons to show people what they can do” with adjustments.
For example, his Permobil Mobile Wheelchair has been adapted so that he can elevate and lower it.
“It’s handy in the kitchen and even at the store, I can reach something on a top shelf,” he said.
He acknowledged that the wheelchair adaptation cost $4,000 seems prohibitive. Insurance companies won’t cover such adjustments, which is a tough pill to swallow when a person is juggling other expenses, especially high medical costs, he said.
“A $4,000 option is a lot,” Chrz said. “It helped my confidence, and I was lucky my family chipped in. Not a lot of people are that lucky.”
The benefits of adaptive cooking extend beyond food for the body, nourishing the soul, too, as people discover they can develop skills in the kitchen, he said.
In teaching the culinary tricks, he said, “I will try to convey the message how good it is for me. It can really work on people’s mental wellness if they can re-imagine themselves.”
Renee has no doubt that Richard will help others with such endeavors, saying, “My husband is so charismatic and has such a positive attitude people are very drawn to him.”