Seen & Heard: Christine Hà

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Cooking and eating are some of the most sensory-rich experiences we have. Obviously, the star of the show is our sense of taste. We choose what we eat and drink primarily based on how we expect them to taste. When something hits our taste buds, in a fraction of a second, we know whether or not we enjoy the flavor. There is no fabricating the euphoria that comes from enjoying the sweetness of ice cream in the summer. Taste is the star of our food experiences, but our other senses play major roles in our experience of making and enjoying food. The smell of cookies baking evokes memories of being at grandma’s. Bacon sizzling on a pan is a sound that is instantly recognizable when it hits the ear. The hands are likely to never forget the soft feel of kneaded dough. That leaves sight. All the colors in the world can be found in the kitchen. A well plated meal is a timeless work of art. We traditionally consider our sense of sight to be a vital part of the cooking experience.

So what happens if vision is removed from the equation? Can you even cook if you can’t clearly see what you are doing? Can a meal be properly enjoyed if you’re not sure what’s on your plate? In Christine Hà we find the answers to these questions.

Christine Hà is a writer and professional chef. She also happens to be blind. If you were to look at her list of accolades, you would never guess that she has lost a significant amount of her vision. She has worked as the Fiction Editor for a major publication, she has published her own cookbook, she has co-hosted her own cooking show, and most impressively, Gordon Ramsay is a very big fan of hers. That makes sense, considering she was the season 3 winner of the popular cooking competition show, MasterChef. All of her success has been recognized by the blind community; in 2014 she received the Helen Keller Personal Achievement Award from the Foundation for the Blind. Previous recipients include Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder.

Christine Hà is a truly inspiring person, so naturally we had to talk to her. We got in contact with her and she was kind enough to take some time and answer all of our questions.

Bon Appetit!

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Two Blind Brothers: How old were you when you started to lose your sight? What was that like?
Christine Hà: Age 20.  Obviously scary.

TBB: What advice do you have for young people currently losing their vision?
CH: Seek a support group or network.  Learn how to properly grieve the loss of vision.

TBB: Has cooking been a lifelong passion of yours? If so, how did your experience in the kitchen change as you began to lose your sight?
CH: No.  I only started cooking in college at around the same time I began losing my vision.  I had to learn new techniques and find creative adaptive solutions to my ever-changing vision.

TBB: What is your favorite part about cooking?
CH:  Learning and feeding others.

TBB: At Two Blind Brothers, all profits go to researching a cure for macular degeneration. You founded Dining for NMO, which raises money for the Guthy-Jackson Research Foundation Inc. For people who don’t know, what is NMO and how can they help?
CH: NMO, or Neuromyelitis Optica, is a rare autoimmune disease primarily affecting the optic nerves and spinal cord.  The best way to help is to support the Guthy Jackson Charitable Foundation with a donation.

TBB: You have a cooking show, Four Senses, on Accessible Media Inc. (AMI) in Canada, do you feel we need more accessible ways for the visually impaired to consume media?
CH: Definitely. I like that Netflix now adds audio description to all its original programming.  It should be mandatory for all films and television.  I did a TEDx talk about this very matter: how blind people want to be able to enjoy entertainment too.

TBB: Do you have a culinary guilty pleasure? Are you secretly a huge Big Mac fan?
CH: I don’t believe in guilty pleasures.  I think you should never regret what you decide to consume. I eat McDonald’s from time to time as it offers childhood nostalgia.  I love ice cream cones, cookies, dark chocolate, and a dirty gin martini.

TBB: What are your favorite sounds, tastes, smells and textures in the kitchen?
CH: Sound; Meat searing on a cast iron skillet.  Taste; Most things I cook.  Smell; Bread baking in the oven or onion and garlic browning in butter.  Texture; Potato chips.

For recipes, tips, writing and a whole lot more, check out Christine’s blog, the Blind Cook.