Visually-impaired Christine Ha, winner of the third season of MasterChef America takes us through the highs and lows of her culinary journey
Christine Ha has two passions — food and words, the American chef and writer is the winner of the third season of MasterChef America. She speaks to us about discipline, writing, cooking and overcoming neuromyelitis optica, a condition in which a person’s own immune system attacks the optic nerves and spinal cord. Through her creative portals of food and writing (follow her at www.theblindcook.com) Christine tries to connect with people and invites them to travel along with her on a journey of the senses.
What is the responsibility you feel towards people with disabilities?
I am honoured to be a voice of the visually-impaired and those with other disabilities and the disadvantaged groups. We’re in an age where it’s crucial for us to fight for our civil rights. And, of course, I am happy to be a testament to all that anything is possible with dedication and drive.
What is the level of organisation and skill that it takes for you to cook?
Thankfully I have always been an extremely neat and organised person. But this became so much more important after losing my vision, especially in the kitchen. There are always lots of things going on in the kitchen, so I have to know where everything is and what I’ve done already and what still needs to be done. It’s a skill I’ve gotten better with over time and experience.
You must rely a lot on your other senses in the kitchen. Have there been episodes — funny or otherwise?
Most definitely. There was this one time years ago when I tried to make mulligatawny. I was loosely following a recipe my then boyfriend (now husband) had found. I questioned the amount of black pepper that went into the recipe but decided to follow the recipe and dump all the black pepper into the stockpot without tasting it. I didn’t taste the soup until it was ‘done’, and boy, it was the worst dish I’d ever made. I coughed so much from the pepper, and my eyes were burning. Important lesson learned: always taste as you go and adjust accordingly.
Winning MasterChef did it ever become more than just winning a reality show?
Yes. Towards the end, as I got closer to the No.1 spot, it became much more than just a TV show. It became, at the time, my life and blood and soul. It became something I had to prove to myself and others. It was about survival.
What was it like working with Gordon Ramsey?
I think Gordon took on a softer, more mentoring role on MasterChef than he does for his other shows like Hell’s Kitchen. MasterChef is all about amateur home cooks who have never had formal culinary training, so his expectations of us were different. That being said, I have still been yelled and cursed at by Chef Ramsay, but in all honesty, I’m glad because it shows he didn’t play favourites — he didn’t treat me differently from the rest.
Are you going to write a book? May be fiction about a blind girl who beats the odds and the evens, to live happily ever after?
My fiction is usually much darker than that, probably too dark to be considered a “happily ever after” story. I am, however, currently working on my memoir about my vision loss and diagnosis with Neuromyelitis Optica (NMO) and the year my mother had cancer. But, as you know by having watched the show, the ending is quite happy per se.
I am planning to open a gastropub in Houston where people can come and try out my menu creations. I’m excited to have both my literary and culinary dreams come true. It’s been and will be amazing.