Jenson Larrimore, 32 

Chef, Student, Disability Activist

click to enlarge ASH DANIEL

It might be a first that a Top 40 Under 40 recipient asks everyone over for dinner. Consider yourself invited. This month chef Jenson Larrimore will be leading the kitchen crew at Positive Vibe Café for a benefit during Disabilities Awareness Month.

“It’s going to be simple but special,” Larrimore says of the Oct. 27 event, “to show people that people with disabilities can still get into the kitchen and create.”

It was in Maui, Hawaii, seven years ago, on Oct. 3, that he was on his moped when a car hit him, sending him flying 50 feet and leaving him paralyzed from the chest down.

“I’m what’s considered a T-6 complete,” he says of his injury. “It takes a lot of work. You have to learn to define your disability and not let it define you. You have to learn to love yourself as a person with a disability. Some people struggle with this their entire lives, and others seem to be unfazed by it and carry on.”

He carries on.

Part of his drive comes from his love for the art of cuisine. He got his first restaurant job at age 14, and has built his skills apprenticing with an Italian chef, then working in Louisiana, Arizona and Hawaii. The graduate of Open High School, a psychology student at Virginia Commonwealth University, he’s worked in some of the city’s best restaurants, Buckhead’s and Mamma ’Zu, where he managed the kitchen for two years.

He’s also driven by a goal to devise a rehabilitation model based on teaching people with spinal cord injuries how to cook. While juggling work and classes, Larrimore started and leads the group Students for Disability Advocacy and Awareness, now in its second year at VCU. He’s also worked for years with the Virginia chapter of the National Spinal Cord Injury Association.

Despite Larrimore’s challenges, Garth Larcen of Positive Vibe says: “He refuses to allow it to slow down his commitment to helping others with disabilities and provide the absolute necessary inspiration to all of the people he interacts with. He has a focus and determination that sets an example for all of us.”

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