She created history by becoming the first ever visually impaired contestant to win the MasterChef title when she took home the coveted trophy in the third season of the show’s US edition. Fast forward seven years and Christine Hà is now a name to reckon with in the culinary world, with a best-selling cookbook, a chance to judge MasterChef Vietnam and a newly opened restaurant in her kitty.
In an email interaction with indianexpress.com, the chef shares her experiences on MasterChef, her new venture and, of course, Gordon Ramsay!
Can you tell us a little about your childhood — what got you interested in food and flavours, and when?
My mom was a great cook, but she died when I was 14 and never taught me how to cook. When I was in college, I missed her cooking and decided to teach myself how to cook Vietnamese food. I read cookbooks and just started cooking. There were many bad dishes in the beginning.
What is the best thing about being a chef?
Creating food, and having it sustain and be enjoyed by others.
You started experiencing haziness in one of your eyes when you turned 20, which led to loss of vision. What kept you going through that phase?
Going through vision loss and other NMO (Neuromyelitis optica) symptoms that affected my spinal cord was not easy. Many times I felt depressed, defeated, hopeless, scared, and useless. It’s mainly because of the support I had from the people around me: friends, rehabilitation counselors, independent living instructors, professors, and doctors and nurses. It’s really a team of people and their generosity — they may not understand what you’re going through, but they try their best to help. It also helped to find other NMO patients out there and share our stories with the disease. Over time, I learned to pick myself up from the sadness and figure out how to be a productive part of society in spite of my challenges.
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The 10th season of @masterchefonfox premieres tomorrow, Wed, May 29! Hopeful home cooks vie for an apron with past winners Jennifer of season 2, Shaun of s7, and me there to offer encouraging words! Tune in to FOX tomorrow at 8/7 pm C for the biggest season yet! 📺🔥 #MasterChef
Can you share your experiences of participating and winning MasterChef US?
It was a life-changing experience. It’s been seven years, but sometimes, I still look back and feel in awe. I’ve had the chance to write a cookbook that became a New York Times best-seller, judged MasterChef Vietnam, had my own cooking show called Four Senses in Canada, and now I’ve just opened my first restaurant called The Blind Goat in Houston, Texas.
It can be challenging and pressurising to work under the mentorship of Gordon Ramsay. How was your experience?
Luckily, he saw that I had promise and chose to build me up and encourage me. He helped me find confidence and believe in myself and trust my intuition. I value what he says very much — he’s always brutally honest, whether good or bad.
Gordon Ramsay praised many of your dishes. But which dish has been your favourite?
I’m not a sweets person, but my favorite moment has to be when I was judged for my apple pie. It is my most famous scene from MasterChef, and I even have a version of that apple pie on my menu today at my restaurant.
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I remember how bizarre, nerve-wracking, and emotionally tumultuous it was to audition for @masterchefonfox & cook for @gordongram @grahamelliot @jbastianich…all while being surrounded by blinding set lights & cameras. Tonight on @foxtv at 8/7 pm C is the last round of auditions for #MasterChef season 10…and the start of both culinary boot camp & the opportunity for these home cooks to change their lives. Catch me, @redfincrudo & @chefshaunoneale on tonight’s episode as we encourage the contestants: “We were once in your shoes.” 📺👩🏼🍳🔥
What was the most challenging bit about being a MasterChef contestant?
Not being able to see and having to take part in the field team challenges. It takes a lot of mental energy and memory to learn a new environment and cooking space while working with other people who have not cooked with blind people before.
Did you ever feel that other contestants had an advantage over you?
Of course! If you can see, you already have an advantage to begin with.
Can you tell us about your new restaurant — why the name, and also about the concept and cuisine?
The Blind Goat just opened in August 2019. It is located in my hometown of Houston, Texas. We serve modern Vietnamese cuisine. The name stems from the fact that I’m known as the blind cook or chef, and I was born in the year of the goat.
You are an inspiration to many as you beat all odds and never gave up on your dreams. What message would you like to give out to our readers?
Life is hard. Everyone has their own challenges in life. It’s how you play the hand you’re dealt that builds character. Don’t be afraid to fail, and remember to celebrate the small victories.
MasterChef US Season 10 is currently airing in India on Star World, every Monday to Friday at 9 PM.
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