Interview with Christine Ha, MasterChef Winner, Writer, and Chef
In the past several weeks, Christine Ha has navigated through a series of challenges while competing on, and ultimately winning, MasterChef on the FOX Television Network. On MasterChef, the top 100 home chef contestants from around the United States face off to become labeled the MasterChef. The winner of this reality television show takes home $250,000, a trophy, and the privilege of writing his or her own cookbook. Congratulations, Christine!
Here is the catch—Christine Ha is not just a great cook, well spoken, and bright. She happens to be visually impaired due to an autoimmune disorder called nueromyelitis optica (NMO). Ms. Ha has been a very positive presence on reality television, which does not always present persons in the best light.
MasterChef has been very diligent about explaining specific aspects and challenges that Christine Ha faces during the competition. On the show, contestants compete and are judged by three persons—Chef Gordon Ramsey, food critic Joe Bastianich, and Chef Graham Elliot—all known for being tough judges of food and culinary talent on the prior two seasons of the show, and that continues on the third season of the show.
Christine Ha has been writing about food via a blog, theblindcook.com, and the blog is ultimately what led to the producers of MasterChef discovering her. She is currently completing her Master's of Fine Arts in writing at the University of Houston, which is one of the top ranked programs for writing in the country. She took time off from completing her thesis to compete on MasterChef, and intends to finish her program.
Christine Ha took the time to answer some questions for AFB CareerConnect about her life and experiences on MasterChef.
Q & A with Christine Ha of MasterChef
AFB CareerConnect: Where did you grow up?
Christine Ha: Houston, TX
AFB CareerConnect: Your neuromyelitis optica (NMO) — when were you diagnosed with this condition?
Christine Ha: 2003
AFB CareerConnect: How has your loss of sight changed your life?
Christine Ha: It's changed it dramatically. I went from a job as a software consultant using my business degree to a creative writing degree. I am now doing something I find much more fulfilling and effective. It has made me realize what's truly important to me, and that is the ability to connect with others whether through food or words.
Christine Ha: Yes, all of the above
AFB CareerConnect: Who provided the training for you?
Christine Ha: DARS (Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services) and the Lighthouse, both in Houston.
AFB CareerConnect: What are your career goals, post-graduate school?
Christine Ha: I would like to get a literary agent and land a book publishing deal whether for my memoir or fiction. Simultaneously, I'd like to pursue my culinary dreams of opening up an ice cream shop and, eventually, a gastropub. Both would use locally sourced, organic ingredients to produce creative flavors and dishes. I guess you could say I'm quite the overachiever.
AFB CareerConnect: What types of assistive technology or tools do you use?
Christine Ha: I love Apple products for their built-in screen reader, VoiceOver. I also use JAWS. I have an Amigo portable CCTV to read short text. (Too much reading from it gives me a headache.) In the kitchen, I have a talking thermometer, talking food scale, and a liquid level indicator among other equipment. All of my appliances are marked with raised bumps.
AFB CareerConnect: How did you develop your interest in cooking, and what caused you begin writing about it?
Christine Ha: When I went off to college as an undergraduate, I had to learn to cook so I wouldn't starve. After a lot of recipe following and experimenting, I realized I could once in a while create something not only edible but delicious. Cooking for one is difficult portion-wise, so I'd always invite friends over to eat. It was also then that I realized I very much enjoyed feeding other people. It sort of snowballed ever since. I did not grow up with a passion for cooking. My mother was a very good home cook, but I took it for granted. She passed away when I was 14 and left me no recipes. I've been trying to recreate her recipes ever since.
AFB CareerConnect: Were you excited or nervous about being on MasterChef?
Christine Ha: Very much of both!
AFB CareerConnect: How has your experience been so far [up to the point you can share]?
Christine Ha: It's intense, nerve-wracking, and amazing all at the same time. I tend to compare it to pledging for a sorority or fraternity—you never know what's going to happen next, you're completely taken out of your comfort zone and thrown into wild combat with a bunch of people you barely know, and you're doing something—in this case, it's cooking—to with all your heart and soul to move on and up.
AFB CareerConnect: Has this experience changed your outlook for the future?
Christine Ha: Most definitely. It has taught me to trust my instincts and my abilities more than I previously gave them credit for.
AFB CareerConnect: What would be one piece of advice you would offer to a person with vision loss? This could be about following your dream, employment, or life in general.
Christine Ha: It is never easy to lose your vision. It will suck, and you will go through a period of grief and adjustment. It is stressful. And it is okay to cry and lament about it. This is all very normal and healthy. But after a while, you have to pick yourself up, learn to adapt, and move on and forward. Everyone in this world is dealt a different hand—some better, some worse than others—but what's more important is how you play that hand. This is what builds character. And with great character comes great reward.
AFB CareerConnect is grateful to Christine Ha for taking the time to connect with us about her life and experiences on MasterChef.