MasterChef 3 Winner Christine Ha Wows Crowd at Brazos Bookstore

Well, it appears I'm not Christine Ha's only stalker huge fan here in Houston.

Last night, 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.

Christine Ha is the very reason I started watching Master Chef, 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 participant/contestants exaggerate themselves in an attempt for more screen time. Last night, 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 Master Chef.

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 Master Chef challenges, as well as the cookbook. She also mentions that several recipes were inspired by dishes she ate here in Houston, but she doesn't name names--maddening!

A few of the best tidbits about her time in the Master Chef kitchen included:

• They offer cooking classes to contestants on off days, where they can learn new techniques. 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), Christine said that perhaps Becky's ambitious dishes and technical skills worked against her; Ha tried to think of the hour-long challenges in 50-minute increments, to give herself a cushion in case something went wrong. • On the now-famous sashimi challenge, where contestants were tasked with visually recreating a dish, Ha revealed that they 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 Christine's favorite Houston restaurants, the crowd let out a loud, "Ohhhhhh!", which 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 Master Chef?" to which Ha replied, "Don't do it!" but then 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." (Christine is currently working on a memoir about her late mother, and her own vision loss.)

When asked about her "final takeaway" from her Master Chef journey, Ha had two lessons learned 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."

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Christina Uticone