I had the amazing opportunity to talk with Christine Ha, from MasterChef season 3. You know her as the beautiful blind chef who has been blowing everyone out of the water with her determination and raw talent. Christine opened up about her disease and blindness, and surprised us with a secret tattoo! You can find Christine Ha online at www.facebook.com/MC3Christine, twitter.com/MC3Christine, and her personal blog at www.theblindcook.com/
FoodBeat: How did you get into cooking?
Christine Ha: I actually had to get into cooking as a means of survival in college. I was never a great cook but I needed to learn to stay healthy. When I moved into my own apartment I I had to rely on my own talent to cook good meals. I had the option of eating fast food or learning how to make my own home made meals. I started experimenting and I bought some simple cookbooks.
FoodBeat: What is the first dish you mastered?
Christine Ha: It was definitely this great braised chicken ginger dish. It’s a classic Vietnamese dish and is very simple to make. It’s the kind of “homey” food I love. I got the recipe from a Vietnamese cookbook and tried it a few times until I mastered it.
FoodBeat: Would you be comfortable talking to our readers about your disease?
Christine Ha: Of course. I want people to understand what it is and know how to help people who have it. I have an autoimmune condition called NMO, or Neuromyelitis optica. My own immune system has been attacking my spinal cord and my optic nerves. There was a period that I was paralyzed from the neck down but recovered thanks to the help of my doctors and family. I have permanent vision loss and I’m trying to keep it from getting worse. I receive a chemo treatment that is normally used for cancer patients, but it can help slow the progression of my disease. I get it done every 6-12 months and started it in 2008.
FoodBeat: People online don’t seem to understand that while you’re blind, you see more than just blackness.
Christine Ha: There is a lot of misinformation out there about my disease and my blindness. People think that because I can see movement, that I shouldn’t be called blind. The medical scale for blindness is less than 20/200. I don’t even register on the scale. The term for my blindness is “counting fingers”. If, in the right conditions, someone puts their hand in front of my face, I might be able to tell that there is something there. I don’t see much color anymore, and I can only see shapes in the right circumstances. I can see some shadowy figures, and I can see some movement. Blindness is not an all or nothing issue.
FoodBeat: It doesn’t seem like you have any handicaps in the kitchen being blind. You really rock in the kitchen.
Christine Ha: No way! I had so many issues. It must be clever editing for sure. I was always flustered and my blindness was a huge issue. For example, I would put a spatula to the side of me while I was cooking, and then I had no idea where it went. I spent a lot of time working out where things were on my station. Our kitchen is so small! Even simple things like the knobs for the oven were difficult. Mine at home were totally different and I cannot see the temperature gauges on the MasterChef one to know how hot I’m putting it. The biggest issue has to be my speed. I take a lot of time making sure I don’t cut off my fingers by accident!