By Katherine R. Galland
Imagine cooking without seeing the ingredients, the measuring utensils, knives, pans, or burners on the stove. Add to that, the kitchen is considered one of the most dangerous rooms in the home with house fires, burns, spills, and cuts all being possibilities that may arise. Although cooking can be enjoyable and rewarding, some people find food preparation to be a daunting task under the best circumstances, but for people who are legally blind, putting together a meal can be especially challenging. Only about 4,000 people in the United States live with neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder (NMOSD), the condition that caused the first and only blind MasterChef winner, Christine Hà, to lose her vision. Hà once compared her declining vision to “looking at a very foggy mirror after a hot shower.” She navigated the MasterChef kitchen using a masterful sense of touch – one that might fool an audience into believing she has been blind her whole life.
Born in Long Beach, California, in 1979, Hà and her family moved to Houston for her father’s work when she was two years old. Although she was not fond of the city when she was young, Hà later found Houston’s diversity inspired her love for the city. Another attractive feature, she added, is that Houston has “this big city feel, but, at the same time, it has the southern charm.”
Hà left Houston to attend The University of Texas at Austin (UT) where she received a bachelor of business administration degree in finance and management information systems in 2001 and unexpectedly found her passion. When she had to move out of her dorm, following her freshman year, Hà no longer had easy access to food, so she decided to learn to cook. She began buying cookbooks, reading recipes, and whipping up their contents. She found a love for cooking that reminded her of her mother, who died when Hà was a teenager. Hà felt inspired to return to her roots and learned to cook the Vietnamese food she grew up eating. She explained, “I enjoyed being able to make raw ingredients into something that could feed people.” Trying everything she could afford to make, Hà’s much-loved hobby soon developed into skills that allowed her to strengthen the valuable connection between her family and culture.
After completing her bachelor’s degree at UT, Hà had job offers in Austin and Houston. Reflecting on past times, she said, “I can pick a single moment that made me decide to move back to Houston.” As she found herself walking through an Asian grocery store in Houston, she realized how much she missed access to the foods she loved. She explained, “This was before I got into the culinary arts. I was coming out of undergrad with a degree in business and about to work in oil and gas, but the food was what made me come back to Houston.”
Though Hà found she loved cooking as a hobby, and food was the reason she returned to Houston, she did not immediately enter the culinary scene. Instead, she pursued a master’s degree in creative writing at the University of Houston (UH) in 2013, which was state funded because of her impaired vision – something that was not offered for culinary school. It was at UH that she began navigating her significant vision loss.
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To get an inside look into the daily activities of the restaurant, visit Há’s YouTube channel here.