Talk about a tear-jerker.
Even notoriously prickly judge Joe Bastianich teared up during Season 3 of Fox’s hit cooking competition, MasterChef.
Some of the season’s waterworks were caused by the pressure of failed dishes. Others by the inevitable “turn in your apron” commands by host and judge Gordon Ramsay that ended most contestants’ stays in the MasterChef kitchen.
One of the more frequent causes of eye-daubing, however, was Christine Ha. The blind graduate student at the University of Houston spent the summer inspiring the judges and other contestants and surprising herself. Among her kitchen achievements was tackling a live crab, baking a “stunning” (that’s Ramsay’s description) apple pie and re-creating (by touch) a intricately plated sashimi dish created by MasterChef judge and celebrity chef Graham Elliot.
Ha has another chance to wow the judges as she takes on Josh Marks, a U.S. Army contract specialist from Jackson, Miss., in the Sept. 10 finale of MasterChef. (The show airs at 8 p.m. on Fox/Channel 26.)
The winner takes home $250,000, a cookbook deal and a gleaming trophy.
With the final episode in the can, Ha and Marks will gather for tonight’s show at Bastianich’s Eataly in New York City.
For all her successes, Ha says the pie baking test was her greatest challenge. When she turned her pie in for judging in that early episode, Ha told Ramsay, “I think it probably looks like a pile of rubbish.” Ramsay didn’t agree, giving it good grades all around.
“I do bake, but it’s not my forte. Baking is so precise. I like to season as I go along, and that’s not possible when baking,” Ha told the Chronicle.
The competition’s lowest point for the 32-year-old was when she was paired with another contestant to re-create a Japanese plate of sushi and tempura vegetables. Ha and Stacey Amagrande of California didn’t complete the dish and the misstep lost Amagrande her apron.
It was another tearful ending. “I felt we were set up for failure,” Ha explained, weeks after the filming.
During many of the series’ challenges, Ha returned to her cooking roots, turning out dishes such as Asian Spot Prawns in pineapple broth and a stir fry. She also excelled at comfort food such as Southern fried chicken legs, corn and coconut pudding and strawberry shortcake.
“I stuck with what I know,” said Ha, who discovered her love of cooking as a 19-year-old coed shortly before being diagnosed with neuromyelitis optica, a rare autoimmune disease, which eventually took her sight.
On last week’s show, Ha told the judges that if she won, she’d dedicate her cookbook to her mom, who died when Ha was 14. She described her mother as a very good cook who regrettably didn’t leave behind her recipes.
As for the future, much depends on the outcome of tonight’s show. She was to have finished her master’s degree in creative writing by now — her coursework is complete — but something called MasterChef got in the way of finishing her thesis.
Ha would someday like to have a niche ice cream business offering organic and locally sourced unique flavors.
She called the two months spent in the MasterChef kitchen “definitely grueling,” but added that no matter the outcome of tonight’s show, she leaves with more than a souvenir apron.
“We were all out of our comfort zone,” Ha said of the 18 contestants, “so we bonded pretty quickly. For sure, I’ve made some good friends.”