If you were one of the many that managed to find parking, patiently wait in line, snag a book, then find an empty space in the packed Brazos Bookstore Tuesday night, consider all of the above as minor sacrifices in order to witness a first — in a slew of firsts — for Houston's own MasterChef winner and now author Christine Ha.
Ha's highly-anticipated cookbook Recipes from My Home Kitchen didn't stand a fighting chance at the indie bookstore. One-by-one cashiers saw the hardbacks go into the hands of fans and friends alike. With a line still forming and 10 minutes before Ha would arrive, the last copy was sold and a waiting list for her book grew longer and longer.
"It is definitely going to be something that I would want to eat. I wouldn't subject people to stuff that isn't delicious."
Before the signing, in an exclusive interview with CultureMap, Ha appeared slightly nervous, but mostly cheerful waiting in the green room with her husband, John Suh. She seems to be thriving on the surrealness that she explains has been her life after MasterChef.
"I think even before I was in grad school, I was in a period where I wasn't working because I was having a lot of health issues. I was losing my vision and I kind of felt really idle," says Ha, who is legally blind. "Granted, I had a lot of time to catch up on TV shows and catch up with friends and now it's the complete opposite.
"Now, I'm super busy and feeling productive. But at the same time I really try to monitor my time and manage my stress level."
Busy she is with numerous projects including publishing her cookbook, earning a master's degree from the University of Houston's Creative Writing Program (completed just a few weeks ago), working on that restaurant concept (first reported on by CultureMap last Dec. 21) and the possibility of a return to TV.
"It's ( the restaurant) still in developing stages. It is still kind of in early planning stages. Ideally, we're hoping to open up some time early next year, but there're a lot of moving parts to it," Ha says. "It is definitely going to be something that I would want to eat.
"I wouldn't subject people to stuff that isn't delicious. I might try and elevate the menu, depending on what's in season."
And what about going back on MasterChef as a returning winner? "Yeah," Ha says enigmatically, "you'll have to keep watching."
There's little doubt that Ha's winning season revealed her own already strong perseverance.
"I don't think a lot of us give ourselves enough credit for what we are able to do and it's not until you are put through these really crazy challenges in life or on the show that you realize how much tenacity you have to achieve thing," she says. "So I encourage everyone here to really go out there and do stuff you never thought was possible.
"Even if you make a mistake and fall on your butt, it teaches you and you become a better person for it."