Christine Ha, an M.F.A. candidate for fiction at the University of Houston, has set aside her thesis for a shot in the world of competitive cooking on reality television. During her audition for Fox's MasterChef, Ha stepped into the judging room and tapped her way to the kitchen counter with a cane, her husband pushing a rolling cart and guiding the way.
Ha used her hands to search for the sink knobs and the soap, and completed the final steps of her dish — Vietnamese catfish with pickled vegetables — by taste and touch alone.
The judges were stunned: She was the first blind contestant in the history of MasterChef.
"I have to depend a lot more on the other senses to cook — taste, smell, how certain ingredients feel," Ha said.
As Ha carefully placed the items on the plate, she explained to the judges that she had been diagnosed with an autoimmune condition 10 years before. Though her vision has deteriorated gradually since then, she has learned her way around the kitchen without eyesight.
"I have to depend a lot more on the other senses to cook — taste, smell, how certain ingredients feel," Ha told People. "I'll know if a piece of meat is close to being done by how it feels against my hand or utensils."
Ha's touching story matched with her culinary skills brought notoriously critical judge Joe Bastianich to tears in the first episode, and triggered an inspirational speech from co-host and co-producer Gordon Ramsay in the fifth.
And a run-in with fellow contestant Ryan Umane on Tuesday night's episode has proven that Ha cannot be hindered by her own handicapped vision, nor by any competitor's attempts to undermine her success.
We're eager to see whether the Houston graduate student (and sometimes Houston Press contributor) holds her own in the fight for the $250,000 grand prize and the title of Master Chef.
Are you tuning in on Mondays and Tuesdays at 8 p.m.?