(Full disclosure: I am a devoted fan of Gordon Ramsey's reality TV program called "Master Chef." On the current season, one of the most promising contestants is a blind woman.)
Cooking a gourmet meal is no easy task. Imagine having to prepare and cook even a simple meal without the benefit of sight. We are not suggesting that you blindfold yourself and try chopping veggies for a salad. We just want you to consider how daunting a task like cooking becomes once you remove the ability to see your ingredients, utensils, and the hot stove in front of you.
Christine Ha is blind and she is also one of the chefs currently competing for the title of "Master Chef" on the Fox TV show by the same name. More than 30,000 hopefuls tried to cook their way in to the "Master Chef." The competition winner will score a $250,000 first prize, a cookbook contract, and bragging rights as America's master chef. (This is just the third season of the show in America. There are versions in other countries and we speculate that winners from different countries may soon face off in a competition of "Global Master Chefs.")
Ms. Ha lost her ability to see thanks to a slow deterioration of her vision caused by something called neuromyelitis optica (NMO). Completely blind since 2007, Christine has developed get other senses to allow her to cook at the high level needed to compete in the pressure-filled environment found on "Master Chef."
The 33-yr-old Ha has help from a guide. However, the helper has limitations and is only permitted to assist the chef navigate the pantry, grab various ingredients and utensils, and move from room to room during the show. Aside from that small concession, Christine competes like every other contestant on the show. On Tuesday night's episode she earned the title of "team captain" for one of the challenges and successfully guided her group of chefs to victory.
So, how does she do it? How does a totally blind chef manage to consistently create perfect meals in the super-charged, competitive environment of the "Master Chef" competition? Ha relies on a few tricks that she taught herself as her vision began to deteriorate. Obviously, Ha must make use of her other senses in order to compensate for a lack of vision. She is frequently seen tasting, smelling and touching the ingredients and dishes in each challenge. Gordon Ramsey has often said that he can tell how well a piece of meat or fish is cooked, just by touching it. Ha has managed to perfect this technique, serving perfectly cooked meats each week.
Apparently, I am not the only one who has become fascinated with the blind chef who has managed to breeze through the first portion of this competition and earn a spot inside the final 12. Last week, the BBC Magazine also published a feature on Christine Ha, adding a list of tips from blind chefs.
A few of the tips from blinds chefs that made great sense to me:
- Hazelnuts - top left - Strict organization of a kitchen makes for very efficient food preparation. Ha knows where every ingredient is located in her kitchen.
- Listen to the sponge cake - Blind chef and instructor Sue Pallet claims that you can hear when a sponge cake has finished cooking. (She also adds that chefs should use timers and the sense of touch to tell when the food is properly cooked.)
- Sauce pan not a frying pan - This tip makes great sense to me. Avoiding trouble in the kitchen is always a good thing, especially when hot oil is involved. By using the higher-walled sauce pan instead of a frying pan, any chef can spare themselves from the mess and dangers inherent in spills.
You can see her in action on the show, below:
To see the full list, visit the BBC Magazine.