Christine hà masterchef season 3

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Known as the first blind chef khổng lồ win it all during MasterChef’s third season, chef Christine Ha has wowed food enthusiasts and viewers around the world since 2012 with her ability to lớn harness Vietnamese flavors on TV and at her local restaurants Xin Chào & the Blind Goat.

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Many have heard how “The Blind Cook’s” story began, but this month, the James Beard Award nominated-chef is putting it all on the table khổng lồ encourage others to chia sẻ their experiences with the same rare inflammatory disease that caused her to đại bại her eyesight.

The chef, who grew up in, has lived with neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder, or NMOSD, for more than 20 years. Often misdiagnosed as multiple sclerosis, this condition most often affects the optic nerves & spinal cord and can lead to lớn paralysis, sudden vision loss, or both.

A 2020 study featured in the Frontiers in Neurology journal stated that the prevalence of NMOSD can vary và is seen in anywhere between one và 10 people per 100,000, or less than 1 percent of the population. Those who are East Asian or đen experience NMOSD at a higher rate — at around 4 & 10 people per 100,000, respectively.

In Ha’s case, vision loss was her most prominent symptom, & it all started when she began her journey into cooking.

“Growing up , I ate a lot of great Vietnamese food & I took it for granted,” Ha, 42, said. She began missing the meals her mother, who died from cancer when Ha was 14, made — particularly as a 20-year-old freshman in college fending for herself. It was then that she resolved that she’d teach herself to cook. Quickly, Ha began khổng lồ revel in the joy that cooking brought her & other people, she said, but her eyesight began lớn fade.

When the symptoms began, Ha didn’t know what to lớn think. “I thought it was my contact lens, so I changed it lớn another one,” she said. She scheduled a visit khổng lồ an optometrist, who ran tests và thought it might be a brain tumor — and she was later misdiagnosed with multiple sclerosis. “It was not something I expected to lớn hear at trăng tròn years old,” she said.

In 2003, around four years after her first symptom, doctors confirmed that she had NMOSD. It was difficult, Ha said. Resources online about the disease were scarce, and Ha wasn’t aware of anyone else in with NMOSD.

“I was feeling lost and confused during that period,” Ha said, “At that age, I couldn’t relate khổng lồ anyone. I didn’t know anyone going through similar life circumstances. My coping mechanism was to try lớn surround myself with people that would... Not necessarily understand me, but sort of be there for me.”

As Ha strived lớn learn as much as she could about the disease, she began establishing her own methods lớn ease her transition into blindness. She learned to lớn ask for tư vấn from friends và family in different ways — whether that meant a shoulder lớn cry on or asking a friend lớn help read her mail.

Despite it all, Ha kept cooking, but it wasn’t easy.

Ha’s vision continued lớn gradually decrease over the years, meaning her experience with cooking kept changing. Each time she got used khổng lồ a “new normal,” lượt thích reading recipes in large fonts, she’d đại bại more vision, và then would have lớn start again, teaching herself the same skills again with less and less eyesight.

“I began to depend more on my other senses — touch, sound, và honing in on my palate so I can taste things better,” Ha said.

And in 2012, while Ha was pursuing a master’s in creative writing at the University of, the opportunity lớn audition for MasterChef fell into her lap, she said. Not expecting to lớn win, Ha said she went in with the hope to write about the experience in school. But Ha quickly surprised herself as she began khổng lồ wow the judges, and viewers around the world watching a blind cook rise to the challenge. In the final competition, she crafted a thai vegetable salad, a braised pork belly steamed in coconut soda, & a coconut-lime sorbet using the simple ingredients & bold flavors her mother once used.

Judges called it astounding, earning Ha the MasterChef title, the $250,000 cash prize, and a cookbook deal.

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The response was overwhelming. People from all over the world reached out, & though many comments were positive, Ha said she remembers some naysayers doubting that she’d ever live an independent life or cook over a hot stove or fire. Ha knew better.

By age 28, the chef lost all of her vision. As her MasterChef victory took her around the world, she learned braille and used a walking cane lớn assist her. She hosted pop-ups and cooking demos và traveled lớn show her skills on cooking shows around the country. In 2013, Ha published her first cookbook, Recipes From My trang chủ Kitchen. Eventually, Ha said, she felt ready to xuất hiện a restaurant.

In 2019, Ha opened the Blind Goat, a whimsical modern Vietnamese gastropub in Bravery Chef Hall (the name an ode lớn her experience with vision loss as well as the year in the Vietnamese zodiac in which she was born, the Year of the Goat). The establishment was nominated for the Best New Restaurant in America category by the James Beard Foundation in 2019, & in September 2020, Ha opened Xin xin chào with chef Tony J. Nguyen.

Today, Ha, who was recently named a semifinalist in the James Beard Award’s Best Chef: Texas category, works khổng lồ continuously operate her restaurants Xin Chào và the Blind Goat, crafting up new dishes. The owner is slated to xuất hiện a second location of the Blind Goat in Spring Branch with an expanded menu and is now looking for bids from a general contractor.

“As a woman of màu sắc and someone with a disability in this industry that’s primarily male-dominated, I’m happy to prove that this is me, it’s possible,” Ha said. It’s also given her a platform to show how those who are vision-impaired but love lớn cook can adapt and advocate for themselves in the kitchen.

Chef Christine Ha won the title of MasterChef during the show’s third season. Fox
For Ha, that means ensuring that her kitchen is vision-impaired-friendly. That means adaptations lượt thích tactile bumpy stickers that allow her to lớn tell the heat level of the gas stove at any time. In her restaurant, adjustments include teaching staff how lớn work with someone who is visually impaired, scaling down how much she has to move from station to lớn station, và ensuring her tools are in the same position as she left them, she said. Often, the process is verbal — requiring her khổng lồ encourage people khổng lồ feel comfortable taking her hand và putting it on an ingredient so that she can orient herself, or notifying her when they’ve moved something from her station.

Still, Ha said there’s no one right way to do it.

“I always say, you know your body best. Everyone’s symptoms & journey are different,” Ha said. “You’re your own best advocate… & it’s about figuring out the best version of yourself — whether you need more help or less help.”

Now, Ha is helping others get their bearings with her story và the focus of her most recent initiative, “NMOSD Won’t Stop Me.” This March, Ha is working with the Guthy-Jackson Charitable Foundation, Siegel Rare Neuroimmune Association, and the Sumaira Foundation to host a contest that will encourage those with NMOSD and their care partners to giới thiệu their experience with the world and raise awareness. Those who enter can win a signed version of Ha’s cookbook, và a chance khổng lồ attend a virtual cooking class or connect with Ha in a small or one-on-one setting.

Advocacy groups and local resources can help people with NMOSD navigate their experience, và seeking out a health care team “that’s willing khổng lồ listen to you and tư vấn you” is vital, Ha said.

“You are very much capable,” says Ha, emphasizing that people who have lost a sense or have a disability can always be inspirations — heroes — khổng lồ someone else.

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