When it comes to reality TV cooking shows, you’ve either seen more than one episode of Cupcake Wars, or you have no idea what I’m talking about. You either appreciate the phrase “visually stunning,” or you think its garbage.
I watched Season Three of Gordon Ramsey’s MasterChef with rapt attention. Obviously you get emotionally attached to contestants, that’s why there’s a market for reality TV. And so I was beyond stoked on Monday night when Christine Ha won the title of ‘Best Home Cook in America.’ She’s an awesome chef who specializes in rustic, Asian cuisine. Her palette is impeccable. She’s also legally blind.
Christine was the only sight-impaired competitor on MasterChef; she’s also the only legally blind competitor in the history of reality TV cooking shows. From all walks of life and with no formal training, 18 contestants prepared dishes for a tripartite panel of judges made up of Gordon Ramsay (Gordon Ramsay Steak, maze), Joe Bastianich (Del Posto, Eataly), and Graham Elliot (Grahamwich). The judges tasted for “flavor, originality, creativity, and presentation.” Obviously they were looking for someone with a passion for food, but also someone that would look great on the cover of a cookbook.
Christine was concerned she wouldn’t be taken seriously on the show, and indeed, she had to fight tooth-and-nail in the beginning of the competition. Particularly in the group challenges, when much like fourth grade kickball, she was often selected for a team last. But very quickly her cooking skills took center stage. After tasting one of her dishes, Gordon Ramsey once asked, “Are you really blind?” He was impressed by her presentation, seasoning and technique.
Christine gradually lost her sight between 1999 and 2007 due to an autoimmune disease called Neuromyelitis Optica. While cooking, she continuously tastes everything, which explains her exquisite palate. She used a guide during the competition, but only for help navigating the pantry, and for asking questions like, “Is the pastry dough pea shaped?” or “Where is my boning knife?” She spoke with Entertainment Weekly about her disability.
“It’s a very common misconception that people think blindness is all or nothing, it’s not true at all,” said Christine. “From a medical standpoint, doctors call my vision ‘counting fingers.’ If you hold your hand 10 to 12 inches from my face, I could count your fingers as long as the lighting isn’t too dark or glaring. The way I often describe it is that it’s like if you take a really hot shower and then you look into the foggy bathroom mirror, where you only see vague shapes and shadows.”
Throughout the competition Christine largely stuck to what she knew best: Asian cuisine. Some might say she didn’t step out of her comfort zone enough, but in my opinion, she played to her strengths. Aside from the title of ‘Best Home Cook in America,’ she received a $250,000 prize and her very own cookbook. There have been people who’ve said Christine’s win was for ratings. But it’s likely that anyone with opinions that strong on the topic will still be purchasing her cookbook when it comes out next year.
(Photo: Asia News Network)
(Featured Photo: FayesVision/WENN.com)