By Kaitlin Steinberg
By Minh T Truong
By Molly Dunn
By Brooke Viggiano
By Kaitlin Steinberg
By Molly Dunn
By Molly Dunn
By Eating Our Words
Well, it appears I'm not Christine Ha's only stalker huge fan here in Houston.
On June 11, the MasterChef Season 3 winner spoke to a full house at Brazos Bookstore, promoting and signing copies of her cookbook, Recipes from my Home Kitchen. By 6:30 p.m., most seats were full, and by the time Ha took the microphone at 7 p.m., the cookbook had sold out, the crowd was standing-room-only and the temperature in the store had definitely risen a few degrees.
Ha is the very reason I started watching MasterChef, and her combination of personality and skill made me an instant fan of both her and the show. She's just real, and that is a very appealing quality, especially in reality, television where it seems like so many participants/contestants exaggerate themselves in an attempt for more screen time. Last week, Ha's warm sense of humor and frank honesty were on full display as she talked about her cooking inspirations (her late mother), her future plans (a restaurant here in Houston) and — best of all — the behind-the-scenes secrets of MasterChef.
As a writer, Ha explained that cooking felt like an extension of her attempts to connect with people; through both words and food, she could share herself with others: "Being a storyteller, everything has to be a story!" Ha certainly knows how to tell a story, as a brief run through her cookbook reveals; her vignettes are short but revealing, and we learn about why she chose certain dishes for MasterChef challenges, as well as for the cookbook. She also mentions that several recipes were inspired by dishes she ate here in Houston, but she doesn't name names — maddening!
Among the best tidbits about her time in the MasterChef kitchen:
• They offer cooking classes to contestants on off days. The classes are optional, and with an exhausting shooting schedule, they force contestants to choose between rest/downtime and extra study time.
• When asked about contestant Becky (another heavily favored to win), Ha said that perhaps Becky's ambitious dishes and technical skills worked against her; Ha tried to think of the hourlong challenges in 50-minute increments in order to give herself a cushion in case something went wrong.
• On the now-famous sashimi challenge, where contestants were tasked with visually re-creating a dish, Ha revealed that the producers had a second plate ready for her that she was allowed to touch in order to visualize the plate. (Ha is legally blind, for those of you who live on the moon!)
Other great moments of the evening came when fans posed questions to Ha from the audience. When one man asked about Ha's favorite Houston restaurants, the crowd let out a loud "Ohhhhhh!" that was quickly followed by laughter. (She cited MF Sushi and Uchi as special-occasion favorites and Chinatown as a place to go for great, cheap food, "as long as you can look past some bad service," which prompted another big laugh.) In fact, Ha kept the crowd laughing with her answers to questions like:
• "What advice would you give to those who want to try out for MasterChef?" to which Ha replied, "Don't do it!" but then she followed up with advice on practicing techniques and eating a lot to develop the palate.
• After being asked, "What's your next adventure?" Ha paused and then deadpanned, "I'm going to become the president," before admitting that ultimately, "I would love to win a Pulitzer." (Ha is currently working on a memoir about her late mother and her own vision loss.)
When asked about her "final takeaway" from her MasterChef journey, Ha had two lessons to share. First, don't give up. "Life will suck, and it's okay to be upset about it," she said. "But you have to make the most of the hand you're dealt." Second, Ha advised, "Whatever you are given, you have to give back and use what you have been given to help others."
HOUSTON RESTAURANT WEEKS KICKS OFF AUGUST 1
What will be different from last year?
Houston Restaurant Weeks is less than two months away, and its organizers are gearing up to raise funds for the Houston Food Bank once again, beginning August 1 and running through Labor Day, September 2. This marks the tenth year for the monthlong event.
While the complete list of restaurants participating has not been formally released, we do know that Randy Evans of Haven, Michael Cordúa of Cordúa Restaurants, and Arthur Mooradian of Del Frisco's, Sullivan's and the new Del Frisco's Grille will be taking part once again. Cleverley Stone, founder of Houston Restaurant Weeks, predicts that these three groups of restaurants will make huge donations. In fact, Del Frisco's was the No. 1 donor last year.
Stone says a few adjustments are being made to this year's fundraiser, starting with a brand-new logo and a schedule change that has the formal dates running through Labor Day, as well as new pricing for specific meals.
"I have added a layer of pricing, so now we have a lunch at $20, dinner at $35 and dinner at $45," Stone says.