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A #hyphenatedAsians POV: Christine Ha

Christine Ha is a powerhouse of creativity and resilience. She was the first-ever blind contestant and winner of Gordon Ramsey’s amateur cooking show MasterChef, defeating over 30,000 home cooks to win the title of MasterChef, a $250,000 cash prize, and a cookbook deal ("Recipes from My Kitchen"). Ha also holds a Master of Fine Arts from the Creative Writing Program at the University of Houston and a Bachelor of Business of Administration from the University of Texas at Austin. In addition to those accomplishments, she has also served as the culinary envoy for the American Embassy as part of the cultural diplomacy program in several countries, spoken on disability advocacy at the United Nations, given Tedx Talks, opened two successful restaurants, and much more. The deeper you get to know Ha, the more you realize that, even without sight, there’s nothing she can’t do.


Tell us a bit about your story.

I am best known for being the visually impaired cook that won MasterChef Season 3 in the U.S. I’m also a New York Times best-selling cookbook author and owner of two restaurants in Houston: The Blind Goat and Xin Chào.


What was your childhood like?

I’m California-born, Texas-raised. I grew up an only child. My parents were Vietnamese refugees.


Was cooking always one of your passions?

No. I started cooking when I was in college, mainly because I had to learn to live independently. It wasn’t until I began teaching myself to cook that I realized I enjoyed it a lot. It was just a hobby, though, until I competed on MasterChef, which opened many opportunities for me in the culinary world afterward.


What challenges did you face as a second-generation Asian American, and how did you work through them?

I felt the burden of straddling two different cultures growing up. Like many who grew up like me, I wasn’t American enough at school and not Vietnamese enough at home. Eventually, I realized that I didn’t have to identify as one or the other, but that I could be both. And being both is beautiful.


When you found out you had neuromyelitis optica (NMO) at 20, how did you feel? What helped you transform what many perceive as a limitation into one of your biggest strengths?

I felt lonely and isolated as it was—and still is—a rare disease. I didn’t know anyone losing their vision nor who had NMO at the time. I decided to educate myself as much as possible about the disease and become my own best advocate for my healthcare. Once I found a treatment plan that stabilized my health, I learned to adapt to what was my new normal of being visually impaired, and having to understand my condition, and recognizing the onset of symptoms, and knowing what to do when that happens.



How do you navigate a kitchen and cooking without sight?

I have to be extremely organized, but that goes for any kitchen and cook, whether sighted or not. I have a few adaptive tools in my kitchen, like raised bump dot stickers that help mark my stovetop and appliances with tactile markers, but otherwise, my kitchen operates like most others.


What are your favorite foods to cook and eat?

I love cooking and eating everything. I always enjoy trying new things. A comfort food that I do love to eat is fried rice. I like that it uses up leftover ingredients, can be cooked in one pan (wok), and is eaten out of a bowl with one spoon. That is the quintessential comfort food.


What and/or who has been the most essential support as you’ve built your business and brand? Why?

My partner in life and business, John. He brings certain strengths to our businesses, like branding, technology, and marketing. We complement each other well because we bring different things to the table, but most importantly, we respect each other’s opinions and trust that even though we may not always see eye to eye, we both want the very best for our companies and share the same long-term vision and goals.



What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment? Why?

Creating two restaurants, building a team, and seeing them grow and be successful.


What goals do you have for the future?

Continue to work on the restaurants, start new ones, write another cookbook, finish my memoir, and finish the documentary film I’ve been working on for the past three years.


What advice would you give to others receiving a life-altering diagnosis like yours?

Know that it’s normal to go through the grief process, but at some point, understand that life will continue on. You must find a supportive community, whether that means family, friends, other patients, a healthcare team, or all of the aforementioned. When you have a good support network and the right, positive attitude, you can and will be able to achieve great things.

 

Find out more about Christine and what she’s currently up to:

  1. Instagram, Twitter, Facebook: @theblindcook

  2. YouTube: ChristineHaTube

  3. Website

Cover photo: Julie Soefer

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