SheKnows: You talk in Recipes from My Home Kitchen about the fact that you have not always been interested in food and were, in fact, a severely picky child. What exactly propelled you from someone who was learning to feed herself to someone who loved cooking enough to compete on MasterChef?
Christine Ha: I chock it all up to maturity. As I became an adult myself, I learned to appreciate what my mother did for me as a child. I learned to appreciate her cooking and, thus, food itself.
SK: How did you go about re-learning to cook after being diagnosed with neuromyelitis optica?
CH: First, I had to accept my diagnosis and condition. That helped me pick myself up and move forward. And because that passion for food already existed in me, it was then all about adapting — how do I do things differently to accomplish the same tasks in the kitchen? Which equipments or tools will be helpful for cooking without sight?
SK: What was your experience like on MasterChef? How was it working with Gordon Ramsay?
CH: I always say my time on MasterChef was one of the most stressful, most intense, craziest, yet most amazing experiences of my life. Gordon Ramsay says it like it is; he's a great mentor on MasterChef. He's also hilarious — he'd have us all laughing even if it was 6 a.m. and we were all bleary-eyed.
SK: Can you tell us a bit about the tattoo you got to commemorate your time on MasterChef?
CH: Once I'd finished the show, I knew that it was a life-changing experience and I wanted to commemorate it with some body art. The tattoo incorporates three of my favorite ingredients with which to cook and eat: garlic, cilantro and a school of anchovies to represent fish sauce. They are three ingredients I used quite often on MasterChef, and I felt like they were, especially the fish sauce, my secret weapons. I wanted the ingredients to flow together harmoniously (as they do in the dishes I cook), so I asked for a Japanese print to be applied to the piece, which is why they are all connected by a wave of water. The Japanese highly value art, Zen and harmony — all elements I feel should be a part of food.
SK: Your cookbook contains both Asian and American comfort food. If you had to choose your favorite dish in each category, what would they be?
CH: That is an extremely difficult question to answer, as I love so many different types of comfort food. If I were to eat a comfort dish from each cuisine right now, I'd pick my mama's chicken noodle soup for Asian and Cajun fried turkey and all the Thanksgiving fixins for American.
SK: Which of your recipes would you recommend for reluctant chefs?
CH: Many of the recipes you'll find in my cookbook are not fussy — the ingredients are easy to find, the techniques are simple and the results are fabulous. Classic bruschetta is delicious and elegant but not time consuming to prepare. Chicken curry is one of those comfort dishes that taste like you've been cooking it for hours but in actuality has little hands-on requirement. Grilled beef short ribs taste impressive but call for just eight ingredients. Other simple yet savory recipes include panko-crusted lamb, meatloaf and Thai basil clams.
SK: What is the one kitchen gadget can you not live without?
CH: The Japanese gyuto chef's knife my husband gifted me this month upon my graduation from the Master of Fine Arts program in creative writing.
Season 4 of MasterChef begins May 22 on FOX.