Human Interest… PAZAZ™ Style!

Typically human interest stories are most interesting when there are events that place exclamation marks around the statement, “Man’s inhumanity towards man!” We see the world on a global platform and even within our own country and communities losing the common thread that binds our humanity. The news we are feed often is carefully orchestrated to create a world view of despair which sells the information (to direct us like cattle) to the intellectual corral we find ourselves in.

But throughout this perceived cloud of hopelessness there is much that is happening around the world that gives way to the “light at the end of the tunnel”. There is so much good that people do for one another we must take into consideration the heart and soul of humanity and breath life back into the goodness that makes all of us so very special.

One such story involves chef Christine Ha. Cooking is a compilation of many different physical and mental sources that meld flavor, presentation, and love into the final display. Food is more than a simple pleasure… it is the sensory experience that obligates something you can’t touch with something you can feel. The beauty of expression meets the flavor produced from ingredients carefully crafted into a melange of elements that in combination create the objective of “unparalleled” dining experience.

The meaning of “cooking” for Christine, is a way of self-expression and of being able to share herself and her story with other people.” Love is what drew Ha to cooking in her early 20’s. She didn’t grow up wanting to become a chef, but missing her mother’s Vietnamese home cooking, she began to “reverse engineer” her mom’s dishes from memory. In the process, Ha taught herself how to cook, a skill she improved upon as she learned technique fueled by desire.

There was one X factor I haven’t mentioned. You see as she became older she had to find new ways to adapt and cook the same recipes again and again because she was losing her eye sight. She needed to rely on different senses to “up her game”.

After four years of tests, Ha was relieved to get a diagnosis: Neuromyelitis optica, an autoimmune condition similar to multiple sclerosis that affects the optic nerves. Ha can still see some shadows, faint light, and contrasting colors – similar to a foggy mirror after a hot shower.

Ha learned how to navigate with a cane, read braille, and use screen reader technology. She had to adapt mentally. In Ha’s kitchen that means everything is ultra organized. All spices in order, items are labeled in braille, and the stove top knobs have “bump dot stickers,” corresponding to heat levels.

When Ha was in graduate school her friends and family encouraged her to audition for the competitive TV show “MasterChef”. At the very least Ha thought it would be a great “Human Interest” story and something unique to the show. Instead… she wowed the famously tough judges.

Ha was gone for quite a while filming as she made it past each challenge with flying colors. Ha was the first blind contestant on the program and really didn’t realize how far this exposure would take her when she initially accepted the challange. As she stated later on, ” I guess the rest is history.”

Why does she say that? Because Christine Ha won the third season of “MasterChef” in 2012. She has gone on to write cookbooks, hosted a Canadian TV show for cooks with visual disabilities and worked with the US government as a culinary envoy to the Middle East and Eastern Europe. In 2014 she was honored with the Helen Keller Personal Achievement Award from the American Foundation for the Blind.

Stories like that of Christine Ha are the fabric of our country and community that translates into any language. Her desire to achieve, though saddled with an obstacle many would deem to great… she looked beyond human frailty to become a beacon of hope. This story is most certainly a gift to those that believe whatever their circumstance is they can achieve their dreams and goals.