Christine Ha overcomes blindness to win season 3 of ‘MasterChef’

Christine Ha overcomes blindness to win season 3 of ‘MasterChef’
0 comments, 12/09/2012, by , in Food

Photo: Greg Gayne FOX © 2012, Fox Broadcasting Co.

Season 3 of Master Chef (FOX) is over, and the results are in.

Christine Ha, a 33-year old from Houston, TX, took the grand prize of $250,000 and a cookbook deal.

While an accomplishment in itself, Ha’s win is amplified by the fact that she is legally blind. However, she hasn’t always been blind. In 2003, she was diagnosed with Neuromyelitis Optica (NMO), an autoimmune disorder similar to Multiple Sclerosis that atrophies the optic nerves. Eventually, she lost most of her vision to the point that she sees “shadows and extreme blurriness.” She uses the analogy of walking out of a hot shower and trying to look at your reflection in the steamed-up mirror. She writes, “[it’s like] I’m eternally walking through a cloud.”

With such obstacles in her life, Ha was determined not to give up her passions – food and creative writing. In her own kitchen as well as the Master Chef kitchen, Ha has grown to rely heavily on her sense of touch, taste, and smell when cutting ingredients and cooking them. Gordon Ramsay, a Master Chef judge, commented that Ha kept on tasting her food, to which she replied, “I have to – I can’t see!” On the show, Ha faced the same harsh criticism and time constraints as the nearly 100 other contestants. She was allowed minimal use of an aide to help her see (e.g., when measuring ingredients or looking for a misplaced bottle), but Ha did the chopping, cooking, and plating all on her own. For the finale Monday night, the challenge issued was simple: cook the meal of your life. Ha stuck with what she was most comfortable with and what she grew up with – Vietnamese comfort food. Her instincts paid off, as her selection of a Thai papaya salad, a melt-in-your-mouth braised pork belly and rice dish, and a fresh coconut-lime sorbet won the judges over and ultimately helped her secure the title of Master Chef.

At home, Ha’s kitchen has a few special features to make things easier for her, such as a talking thermometer, Braille on her burner, and large oven mitts to ensure she doesn’t burn herself. When she isn’t cooking, she works towards her Master in Fine Arts in fiction/creative nonfiction at the Creative Writing Program at the University of Houston. She also runs her own blog, The Blind Cook, with recipes that run the gamut from buttermilk-fried chicken to honey lavender ice cream.

Ultimately, Christine Ha is an inspiration not only to aspiring chefs out there (she has had no professional culinary training), but also the disabled. Her visual impairment set her back, but she refused to let that define who she was and fought to continue to pursue what she loved doing the most. She sums this up by saying, “I just want people to realize that they have it in themselves if they really want to…If they have that passion, that fire, that drive…you can overcome any obstacle and any challenges to really achieve what you want and prove yourself to the world. Everyone is very capable. Much more capable than they think they are.”

Plans for after Master Chef? She wants to open her own ice cream store and pub. Her cookbook will also soon be available in stores.

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