Master Chefs

Celebrate the Lunar New Year with Christine Ha

The MasterChef winner dishes about fame, good fortune, and how egg rolls are like gold bullion.

By Katharine Shilcutt January 23, 2014

"I'm working on my memoir," says busy MasterChef winner Christine Ha, "but it's been hard to carve out time."

Image: John Suh

MasterChef winner, best-selling cookbook author, soon-to-be restaurateur—oh, and Houstonia contributor!—Christine Ha will be whipping up yet another pop-up dinner in February, in case you missed her short series at Phoenicia's Market Bar this past September. And this time, Ha is teaming up with another local whiz kid—Rishi Singh of Boheme Cafe & Wine Bar—to cook a cross-cultural feast.

The event, which takes place at the Asia Society Texas on February 6, pairs up the two chefs for a tasting menu inspired by the Lunar New Year. We're heading into the Year of the Horse, according to the Chinese zodiac, a year that's said to encourage energy, action, productivity, and adventure. According to Ha, that's exactly what her year ahead will likely hold.

"It's been a really busy past year and a half," laughs Ha over the phone. Busy is probably an understatement, however. After becoming the first blind contestant on the popular competitive cooking show MasterChef, Ha went on to win the third season—a victory that launched her quickly and unexpectedly into stardom.

"I didn't even know a lot of people watched the show," recalls Ha of her decision to try out for Fox's MasterChef. "I just went on there kind of nonchalant, and it's been a crazy ride."

Young Professionals Mixers: Lunar New Year Leo Bar featuring Christine Ha and Rishi Singh
February 6, 6-8 p.m.
Asia Society Texas
1370 Southmore Blvd.

Her cookbook, Recipes from My Home Kitchen, became a New York Times bestseller after being published in May 2013 (in addition to $250,000 in prize money; her MasterChef victory came with a book deal). Ha has been traveling extensively to promote both her book, she still updates her blog on a regular basis, and she's even been hosting the occasional pop-up dinner—but Ha isn't slowing down any time soon.

In addition to an upcoming MasterChef Travel Tour in which Ha will host a culinary tour in Vietnam, plans for a Houston restaurant, and another book—this one a memoir—Ha's new television show premieres tomorrow night. Four Senses airs on the Canadian lifestyle network AMI, though Ha says they're looking into having it syndicated in the U.S. "I cohost the cooking show with Carl Heinrich, who won Top Chef Canada in season two," reports Ha. "We have celebrity guest chefs on every week." Ha admits she's just recently become accustomed to being a celebrity chef herself.

"It took me a while to kind of grasp what it means to be in this position and be kind of famous," she says. "Being recognized in places like airports and the grocery store, you feel a little bit scared because you lose that privacy; people start looking in your cart to see what you're buying," she laughs. "But I'm much more adjusted to it now."

At the upcoming Asia Society Texas event, Ha will be discussing her cookbook, her upcoming memoirs, and much more in a live interview with KHOU 11 anchor Lily Jang. Afterward, Ha will be signing books and greeting fans. Meanwhile, Singh will be executing a three-course menu designed in a collaboration with Ha.

"I thought it would be an interesting opportunity since Lunar New Year is something my family celebrates," says Ha, "and also to work with chef Rishi to design a menu." Included in the courses will be "noodles for longevity, some citrus worked into there, and some egg rolls that symbolize gold bullion." But neither Ha nor Singh are taking the Year of the Horse inspiration quite literally.

"The Japanese eat horse," chuckles Ha, "but I don't think that would really fly here in Houston."

 Tickets are on sale now for $35 or $50 at the door; the event is free for Asia Society Texas members.



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