Alexis Hillyard smirks mischievously as she uses her stump as a spatula to scrape avocado from its skin.
The Edmonton woman cooks up delicious vegan, gluten-free meals, all with just one hand.
Hillyard, 34, isn’t shy about her disability. Her YouTube cooking series Stump Kitchen is a lighthearted look at her culinary skills, complete with plenty of tongue-in-cheek stump humour.
In the weekly segments, filmed in her home kitchen, she fries, bakes and sautées while extolling all the ways her stump is her most industrious cooking tool.
“It’s a great lemon and lime juicer so you don’t really need a juicer if you have a stump,” Hillyard said in an interview with CBC Radio’s Edmonton AM. “It’s great for scraping batter out a bowl, really good for mashing avocados. It’s just fantastic.
“It’s also really good for dishes because you can get it into dishes that you couldn’t get your hand into. It’s really amazing.”
Born without her left hand
Asked about why she is missing a hand, Hillyard giggles and claims it was lost in a shark attack.
In fact, she was born without her left hand. Hillyard, who is also a skilled rock climber, has never thought of her missing limb as a hindrance.
“I’ve had a stump all my life and I love it,” she said. “I had a really awesome upbringing where there were not a lot of barriers put on me from other people.
“I think disability is a ‘rad’ word for lots of folks but for me and my life, I just use my stump in all the ways that I need to and it works for me, and it works well in the kitchen.”
‘Stumptastic’ treats and other eats
Hillyard wasn’t always a chef. She avoided the kitchen until she was diagnosed with gluten intolerance six years ago and began struggling to find fresh, delicious vegan meals.
She started experimenting with food and realized it she had a passion for cooking. It helped her cope with her new dietary needs and kept her nagging depression at bay.
“I found so much joy and healing when I was doing the cooking for myself,” she said. “I’m on a long journey with my own mental health ups and downs, dealing with depression, and cooking in those ways was a really self-healing tool.
“I loved the joy I saw in myself and plus the stump techniques were so hilarious, I thought, ‘We’ve got to film this.’ “
After saving up for some production gear, Hillyard learned to edit the series in the MakerSpace at the Edmonton Public Library, where she works as manager of the City of Learners initiative.
Her partner was recruited as camera operator and they brought in a lamp to brighten their dim kitchen.
Hillyard started sharing the segments online last summer and Stump Kitchen began serving up “Gluten-free vegan eats and stumptastic treats.”
Since it launched, the series has amassed hundreds of followers, thousands of views and garnered praise from viewers around the world.
Of all the messages and comments she’s received, the ones from other people like her are the most meaningful, said Hillyard
“I just filmed it and it became what it is today — this awesome self-love, full-of-joy project that is not only making me laugh, but is starting to make other people laugh and bring them joy.
“I’ve got messages and comments from people all over the world from families with kids with limb difference, sending me pictures that tell me, ‘We’re cooking together, look at our stump technique.’ “
Hillyard started inviting local children with missing limbs into her kitchen to take part in her cooking segments as weekly co-hosts. The little chefs have brought even more joy and hilarity into her home, she said.
She wants to show people with disabilities how to love their bodies. Her show is all about celebrating difference.
“I really want to show diverse bodies on YouTube so people can see there is a wider range of possibilities out there,” said Hillyard, who volunteers with the Lucky Fin Project, a non-profit project aimed at raising awareness and supporting people born with limb difference.
“There is a lot stigma around what people think you can do and not do, and sometimes we internalize those messages.
“I just want to show that anything is possible.”