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I am Christine Ha, MasterChef Season 3 Winner. Ask me anything!

May 9th 2013 by theblindcook • 21 Questions • 1335 Points

I am Christine Ha. I have an autoimmune condition called Neuromyelitis Optica (NMO) that caused permanent vision loss. Last year, I was the first ever blind contestant on "MasterChef" USA season 3 on FOX with Gordon Ramsay, Graham Elliot, and Joe Bastianich. I defeated over 30,000 amateur home cooks to take home the title of MasterChef. My first cookbook, Recipes from My Home Kitchen, hits bookshelves this Tuesday, May 14. This month, I also graduate with an M.F.A. in creative nonfiction and fiction from University of Houston's Creative Writing Program.

I blog at http://www.theblindcook.com

Post updates on http://www.facebook.com/MC3Christine

Tweet at @ChristineHHa, @theblindcook, and @MC3Christine

You can pre-order my cookbook @ http://theblindcook.com/cookbook/

Proof: https://twitter.com/MC3Christine/status/332307688333656066

Q:

Thanks for doing this AMA! My wife and I were rooting for you from the very beginning while we were watching!

My question is: Did you become friends with your 'helper' on the show? Do you still talk with her?

A:

Yes, I became very good friends with Cindy. She has become like a sister to me. She went through everything alongside me and soon became just as invested as me if not more so. I see her and Felix whenever I come to L.A., and we'll be going to Europe together this summer.


Q:

Are the judges really how theory appear on TV? Graham's the good guy, Joe's the bad guy and Gordon's in between and who was your favorite Judge? Also...congrats! You deserved to win!

A:

Gordon and Graham are the same on and off camera. Joe is nicer off camera (at least to me), but I've seen him angrier off camera at others, too. Favorite judge would have to be Gordon because he's so over-the-top and ridiculous.


Q:

Do you think the editing does service to how the competition actually feels while it's happening?

Is the drama and character personalities accurate?

how long did it take to shoot the show?

Did you hang out or go out to eat with any of the chefs? How are Joe and Graham when the cameras are off?

A:

I think the editing turns all of us into one-dimensional caricatures of ourselves. E.g. I like everybody and am usually poised, but I curse like a sailor, and they took that latter part out. In the hotel breakfast service challenge, Felix was not communicating with me, but I wasn't as upset with her as the show might've made our team out to be. So everything is magnified. It took 2 months to shoot the show; we were working around the clock. Joe is intimidating and has a sarcastic sense of humor, but he's funny. Graham is exactly how he is on camera: a lovable teddy bear. ALl the judges are funny in their own ways.


Q:

I don't have a question, but I did want to say you are fracking AWESOME! The wife and I loved watching you cook and seeing the clever ways you worked around the vision loss. I even tried cooking with my eyes closed once... That was a big mistake :(

A:

Thanks for the love. You thought cooking with your eyes closed was hard? Try using a porta-potty at Austin City Limits musicfest blind!


Q:

Hi, Christine! I watched you on the show and was amazingly in awe of your persistence and perseverance! My question is what were your thoughts during making the apple pie? Did you just have a feeling it was done, knowing you couldn't see it? I bawled like a baby when the crust came out flaky. I was so happy for you and so happy that you won!!!

Edit: Also, hi from DFW!! :-)

A:

The whole time during the apple pie pressure test, I was laughing and saying to myself, "THis is a clusterfuck. I'm going home today and might as well give up." I had no idea the pie was done. I shoved it in the oven 18 minutes before time was up and just cranked that mother up to 450°F or something insane. I pulled it out seconds before Ramsay counted down.


Q:

I WANT YOUR COOKBOOK!!!! anyways... How was it working with Gordan Ramsay!?? edit: is he actually that mean in person lol?

A:

I love Gordon. He is different on "MasterChef" than he is on, say, "Hell's Kitchen" because we are all amateur home cooks with no formal training. He falls into more of a mentoring role on "MasterChef." Gordon has a big personality and has us cracking up at 6 AM on the set. He's got a wicked sense of humor. Oh, and he smells great. I found out last time I saw him he wears a cologne called Creed. But don't tell him I told you—I think he likes to keep it mysterious.


Q:

What challenges have you experienced in convincing Americans to try Vietnamese food or other Asian cuisines?

A:

In the words of Monti, "what the hell is fish sauce, and why does it taste like death?" Asian cuisines have many ingredients the average American would find strange: offal, pig's blood, fermented everything...


Q:

Describe your favourite dish, without saying what it is.

Please.

A:

How about a haiku?

Battered and lovely

It's savory in my mouth

Now guess what it is.


Q:

If you could cook for any person in history, who would that person be?

A:

I'd make Adam an apple pie. Hopefully it will keep him away from Eve and her apples.


Q:

Hi Christine! I am a huge fan! I am terrible at cooking. What advice can you give me and other fans who want to improve their cooking skills? Thank you for doing this AMA!

A:

There is no easy way to learn how to cook. You just have to get in that hot kitchen and do it. Practice will help you improve, but passion will set you on fire (in a good way...not like a real fire—that would be disastrous).


Q:

Where is the trophy you won displayed?

A:

After the filming of the show wrapped, it was hidden in a drawer in my bedroom beneath bedsheets. After the finale aired, it was displayed underneath our TV on the media center in our living room. Just a few weeks ago, I moved it to the center of a shelf in my home office.


Q:

Congrats on the graduation! Do you have plans for the kinds of things you'd like to write? Do you skew towards nonfiction or fiction? Any particular genres of fiction that you'd like to try your hand at?

A:

Thanks for the congrats. I started out the Creative Writing Program as a fiction writer because I found the genre challenging. I switched to creative nonfiction in order to capitalize on the recent public interest in my life; my memoir became my thesis. I primarily write literary fiction. As for my plans, I hope to finish and publish my memoir in the next year or two. My next goals are to win a Pulitzer and then a James Beard award for food writing. And then world domination.


Q:

Hi Christine! Houston fan here, will you be opening a restaurant in Houston?

A:

I would love to open an establishment in Houston. Working on that at the moment. Stay tuned...


Q:

Christine you are awesome. If you had to pick your must have tool in the kitchen, what would it be?

A:

Sharp chef's knife.


Q:

Hi, and thank you for doing this AMA! My question is how do you enjoy eating your eggs?

A:

Sunny-side up with Maggi sauce and buttered toast all the way, baby.


Q:

Watching you on the show it seemed that sometimes your eye would look at the person who was speaking to you and at things even though you are unable to actually see them. You carry yourself very well. Do you realize that you do it or does it just happen because it used to be natural to look at the person speaking (voice coming from over here or thing I'm cooking is right here on the stove)? [By the way, I rooted for you the whole time, and I'm so happy for you! /r/houston said you'd be here and I got super excited]

A:

Yes, it's natural for me to "look" at the person to whom I'm speaking or at what I'm doing. I've only been vision impaired for about 20% of my life so it's a hard habit to break.


Q:

How do you really feel about Monty?

A:

At first, I thought Monti didn't know what the hell she was doing in that kitchen. But over time, I grew to respect that her way of learning was different from mine. Plus she's sweet—she rubbed my back and comforted me after that horrible tag team sushi challenge.


Q:

Hi Christine, I absolutely LOVED you on MasterChef! You were so inspiring and an inspired chef. I can't wait to get your cookbook!

Do you stay in touch with any of the judges/competitors from MasterChef? Has there been any ongoing mentoring relationship after the show ended?

What is next for you? Will you open a restaurant? Have your own cooking show?

A:

I stay in touch with many of the contestants: I chatted on the phone with Felix and Scott last week, Skyped with Tanya a few weeks ago, and texted Michael over the weekend. THe judges all lead very busy lives, so there is little contact there. I have dreams of opening my own establishments, i.e. a gastropub—we'll see where these dreams take me.


Q:

Christine, I just want to say that you were awesome on masterchef. Tuned in every week to watch you (and josh) cook.

My question is do you think since developing vision loss that you have become a better chef? Is it true what they say, when losing one sense it streghthens the others? Yours being your palate

A:

Yes, I think vision loss helped me become a better cook. It made me concentrate more on smell and taste and texture rather than the visual, which so many others get hung up on. I think losing one sense may not necessarily strengthen the others, but it definitely allows you to concentrate more on the senses that are left. That is, you are less distracted by sensory overload.


Q:

What do you do on your free time?

A:

I'm either reading, eating, cooking, or listening to a movie or TV show. Currently, I'm re-watching "The West Wing" series and reading The Old Man and the Sea in Braille, On FOod and Cooking, The Professional Chef, and Half A Life all on audio.


Q:

What was your relationship like with the other contestants? It seems like a competitive but friendly atmosphere. Unlike some of Gordon's other programs ex. hells kitchen, kitchen nightmares etc.

A:

Our season was especially friendly. It was, for the most part, healthy competition. I, along with many others, weren't out to screw our fellow competitors in order to win. Many of us wanted to win simply based on true merits.