Many of you are familiar with the cooking reality-show called MasterChef. I have been following the US show since it started airing. The show is currently in it’s 4th season. My favourite season so far has been season 3 and all due to Christine Ha and a few of her fellow contestants. What made Christine, also known as The Blind Cook, my favourite is her quiet confidence, her resolve to succeed despite her disability and her ability to make flavourful dishes with ingredients that I often have in my pantry. How can someone like that not be an inspiration to others? I knew I had to reach out to this wonderful person for an interview.
Now some of you may not have watched the show and may not be familiar with her. She was the first ever blind contestant in the history of Masterchef. She received a B.B.A. In Finance/MIS from The University of Texas at Austin in 2001. She also has a Master of Fine Arts in creative nonfiction/fiction from the Creative Writing Program at University of Houston. She has recently published her first cookbook Recipes from My Home Kitchen.
In the interview she tells us what new projects she is currently working on. Following the interview, you will find a list of links that I is included in the post. In a future post, I will also be making one of the recipes from her cookbook and share the results with you. Don’t forget to catch Christine on MasterChef Season 4 Episode 11 & 12 on Wednesday, June 26th (which also happens to be my 3rd wedding anniversary).
Now what all of you have been waiting for – the interview with Christine! I would like to start by thanking Christine for taking the time to answer my questions.
Twisted Chef T: How has the experience at Masterchef changed you?
Christine Ha: It has taught me to be more confident in my culinary abilities and my taste. Food can be very subjective — what you like will invariably be different from what I like, and both of our opinions are valid.
Twisted Chef T: Which was the most difficult challenge in MasterChef for you and why?
Christine Ha: It was the tag team sushi challenge where I was partnered with Stacey. It was so difficult to do that challenge not being able to see and having to pick up where my partner left off, etc. We ended up in the bottom two, and I was heartbroken. Stacey was picked to go home that day.
Twisted Chef T: Tell us a little bit about your book and the two recipes we should definitely try.
Christine Ha: My cookbook, Recipes from My Home Kitchen, is all about comfort food. They’re accessible recipes for the home cook — not too fussy, not too time-consuming, nor do they require very expensive ingredients and fancy kitchen equipment. I’ll give you three recipes you should try: my mama’s eggrolls — which I reverse-engineered by memory since she left me no recipe after she’d passed away; chicken tikka masala — it’s delicious yet simple to make; and the browned butter ice cream — just heavenly.
Twisted Chef T: How did you choose which recipes to include in the book?
Christine Ha: I thought about what I’ve enjoyed cooking at home that my friends and family took pleasure in eating. I saw that the common thread throughout many of those recipes was comfort food, so I started molding my recipe selection around that theme. I wanted to make sure the recipes were not complicated yet packed full of flavor and the kind of emotion that only comfort food can elicit.
Twisted Chef T: Now that your book is out, what other projects are you working on?
Christine Ha: I’m working on several menu concepts to begin a series of pop-up restaurants which will hopefully lead into dining establishments I hope to open eventually. I also just graduated with a MFA from the Creative Writing Program at University of Houston and have been working on my memoir which chronicles my vision loss and parallels it with the year my mother had cancer.
Twisted Chef T: What inspires you to develop new recipes and what is the creative process you use?
Christine Ha: I love trying new foods, so I’m constantly on the hunt for new restaurants and new dishes. This is what fuels my culinary creativity when I am back home in my own kitchen. People always ask me what my favorite thing to cook is, and honestly, I am happiest when I’m trying something new in the kitchen. I’m a curious person by nature, and I’m constantly hungry for knowledge. So I thrive most when I’m experimenting with a new gadget or ingredient or flavors.
Twisted Chef T: Do you have any kitchen pet peeve(s)?
Christine Ha: Yes — a dirty, unorganized kitchen. My mother instilled in me the notion that your workspace reflects your mind. That is, if your desk or kitchen counter is cluttered, your thoughts will be cluttered. Now that I am vision impaired, organization is even more directly correlated to my efficiency and effectiveness.
Twisted Chef T: Can you share one or two tips and tricks that you use frequently when cooking?
Christine Ha: Taste everything as you go, and remember that you can always add but not necessarily take away. This means don’t season with a heavy hand. Always make sure your knives are sharp — this will prevent injury because you won’t have to use as much clumsy force when cutting foods. Clean as you cook in order to maintain a neat kitchen space. Prepare all of your mise en place ahead of time to stay organized. When a dish tastes heavy or fatty, it is good to add an element of acid, whether it’s lime juice, lemon juice, vinegar, or something pickled. A lot of times when something tastes like it’s “missing”, it’s the acidity.
Twisted Chef T: What advice do you have for anyone who is just getting interested in cooking?
Christine Ha: Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. I botched a lot of dishes when I first started cooking, and I still do from time to time. Like anything in life, we learn from our mistakes (hopefully!). Also, try all kinds of foods with an open mind. The more you try different things, the more you will learn about flavor profiles and how to appreciate what other cultures eat. Lastly, practice a lot — it takes 10,000 hours of doing something for one to be able to call themselves a master at it.
Twisted Chef T: Fun question – if you were given coconut/coconut milk, buddha’s hand, Rockfish, California strawberries and had access to a MasterChef pantry – what would you make with these, keeping in mind you don’t have to use all of the ingredients?
Christine Ha: I would make a coconut curried rockfish with basmati rice, followed by strawberries dressed in orange juice with a little bit of Buddha’s hand zest.
Twisted Chef T: These sounds like wonderful dishes and is really making me wish I could taste them right now. Is there anything else that you want to share?
Christine Ha: Always cook from your heart, and stand behind what you put on the plate. Follow my goings-on at my blog (www.theblindcook.com), my Facebook page (facebook.com/MC3Christine), and Twitter (@theblindcook).
*Information about Christine Ha is based on information published on her sites.