Beyond the Masterchef
Christine Ha is well-known as the first ever blind contestant and winner of the third season of MasterChef, the American TV competition show for amateur cooks. She won $250,000 and the opportunity to write and publish her first cookbook. What is less known is that she is also a writer who gets inspiration for her stories from experiences in her life.She has a Masters degree in Creative Writing from the University of Houston. Christine began losing her vision due to Neuromyelitis Optica (NMO) as an adult and learnt to adapt to the changes that this brought to her lifestyle and plans for the future. With her success as a chef and her sustained interest in writing, Christine is working on advancing her career in both creative fields. In 2014 she received the Helen Keller Personal Achievement Award from the American Foundation for the Blind.
My parents were born in Vietnam and came to the U.S. in 1975. I was born in California. My mother died when I was 14. My father remarried, and I have a half-sister.
I began teaching myself how to cook when I was studying at the University because I had to feed myself. I loved how my creations could make others happy.
No. I like to cook everything, but I probably enjoy Asian food the most.
I have always loved to write stories, ever since I was a young child. I started writing more seriously after I began losing my vision and was diagnosed with Neuromyelitis Optica (NMO) because it gave me a method of catharsis. I started a Master’s program in Creative Writing in 2008.
I have a Bachelor of Business Administration degree and was working in the corporate world. I wasn’t fulfilled by this, but I am not sure what I would have done otherwise. I considered culinary school at one point.
I had to learn to depend on other people and give up some independence. I also had to learn new ways of doing things and adapting my way of doing daily tasks so I could achieve them on my own, e.g., cooking, paying bills, grooming myself.
My friends and a team of counselors at the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services/Division for Blind Services helped me.
My husband inspired me —he is a fan of Gordon Ramsay (a famous British chef who is a judge on MasterChef US). I was in graduate school for Creative Writing at the time. As a writer or artist you are always trying to experience as much of life as possible, so you can feed your creativity. I figured that trying out for MasterChef would at least give me some interesting stories to write about.
Baking was difficult. Also, field challenges that took us outside of the MasterChef kitchen and into a new foreign environment were difficult—I had to get used to a whole new space. The production provided me an aide who acted as my eyes and legs. I could ask objective questions like, “Is the meat in my pan brown, black, or red?” She could run to the pantry and get me items I asked for, but as an extension of me. I was not allowed to touch anything on my station while she was gone to the pantry, even if something caught on fire or boiled over.
No. I imagine everything in my head first and then reproduce that image on the plate. The only help I got was after I finished plating, and I would ask my aide if there were any food or sauce drippings on the plate, and I would wipe them off.
I get to do a lot of cool things like hosting my own cooking show called “Four Senses” and being a judge on “MasterChef Vietnam”. Perhaps the most important thing is that I have been given a platform to be the voice and advocate of those who are often marginalized in society: the blind, the disabled, women, Asian-Americans.
I am currently working on a memoir and in the midst of the development of my own restaurant. I will eventually write another cookbook as well.
I will be the Executive Chef.
I try to go snowboarding every year. Other than that, I enjoy music concerts or festivals, going out to eat and trying new foods with friends, and traveling.
These words can apply to anybody, not just vision-impaired aspiring chefs: Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Experience everything, eat everything. Stand behind your beliefs, and live life with integrity.