Christine Ha, the blind 32-year-old graduate student from Houston, Texas, continues to impress on Fox’s “Master Chef” competition, where contestants cook various dishes on the spot and are judged by three experts, including Gordon Ramsay.
Last week, one by one, two team captains chose whom they wanted on their side. Predictably, Christine was the last to be picked. When her team lost, each of the eight members had to submit to the weekly “Pressure Test,” where the person who makes the worst dish gets eliminated. They had 75 minutes to make an apple pie, and 19-year-old Michael Chen (one of three Asian American candidates in the Top 16) decided cheese and apples were a natural combination. Apparently they’re not (duh!) and in the end, his concoction was deemed the worst of them all, and he was sent home.
As he went from station to station checking in with the contestants, Chef Ramsey told Christine he’d never seen her so flustered before. She said she didn’t have experience baking pies. It was a bad sign that she was the last to get hers in the oven with 18 minutes to go. How can anyone bake an apple pie in 18 minutes?! And how can she even tell what it looks like?
When Christine brought up her finished product for the three men to pass judgment on, Ramsay asked, “What do you think it looks like?”
“I think it probably looks like a pile of rubbish,” she answered, honestly.
But Ramsay told her she was dead wrong: “Visually, it’s stunning! It’s a nice, crisp, dark brown color on the edge. The sugar, it almost [indecipherable] glaze the pastry. And it looks as delicious as [fellow contestant] Frank’s. So stop doubting yourself!”
“Yes, Chef,” she answered, now in tears.
“Be bold!” Ramsay looked under the dish and noted that the bottom of her crust looked cooked (many others’ weren’t). He ran a knife over the top of the pie. “What’s it sound like to you?”
“It sounds good and crusty.”
“Good and crusty,” he confirmed. “So stop feeling upset with yourself!” Christine nodded and began to cry.
He offered with an encouraging smile, “You’ve got to start believing in yourself more! OK?!” She nodded again, continuing to cry.
Ramsay took a cut of the pie, and the wedge held together firmly. “A beautiful apple pie. And the flavor?… The flavor’s amazing! Really good job.” The balcony erupted into applause with at least one woman in tears.
She wasn’t the only one. How inspiring. It was as if someone was looking out for our heroine. How she managed to pull off so many elements correctly while lacking experience and confidence, and with so much going against her, is inexplicable, almost miraculous.
The following night, the Top 15 had 90 minutes to make a dish out of what was found in their “Mystery Box,” which included bull scrotum, brains, cow tongue, lamb head, and hearts. Christine joked that this time, she had an advantage: She wasn’t able to see the ingredients. She whipped up panko-fried sweetbreads with bok choy, and it was declared one of the three best dishes of them all.
Ryan, perhaps the most unpopular contestant, won that competition and was able to choose which seven contestants got to use live Dungeness crab or canned crab in the weekly “Elimination Test.” Although most would want the live crab because it tastes better and more authentic than the canned variety (he gave the people he didn’t like the latter), most thought he was a jerk for giving the former to Christine. As Monti, one of the female contestants told the camera, “What kind of ******* gives a live crab to a blind chick?!”
In fact, while working with the creature, Christine started bleeding and had to call for a medic. At the end of the 60-minute time limit, when she presented her dish to the judges (ceviche cocktail with tomato sauce), Ramsay declared it “visually stunning! Are you really blind?! What color eyes have I got?!”
“Yes,” Christine replied, laughing, “I’m really blind, Chef!”
“You cook every frickin’ time like an angel!” The room applauded. n fact, to really rub it in his face, Ramsay asked Ryan to come up and sample what she’d made. “Yeah, it’s really awesome,” he admitted. “You knocked it out of the park, Christine.”
Ha told the cameras she was proud of pulling off the task, “even though you tried to screw me.”
Overall, the top two dishes were cooked by Josh, a black chef, and Christine, with Christine declared the best of them all. Again, amazing.
As a result, on Monday’s show, Josh and Christine got to be captains of their own teams and pick their members. Each team had 90 minutes to get started on 130 breakfast orders for the hotel guests and another hour to serve them all. Christine chose fellow Asian American Felix Fang to be the “expediter,” the person making sure all the other cooks got their dishes out to customers in time.
Unfortunately, Felix didn’t answer any of Christine’s questions about how everything was going and tried to do things herself (how Asian). Even Ramsay had to point out to Felix that she hadn’t said a word in five minutes as she ran around trying to get things in order. The infamous chef/food critic even accused the 24-year-old Angeleno of cheating when he caught her continuing to load dishes onto a cart after he’d signaled time was up. It looked bad, but in the end, Christine’s team won 60% of the votes of satisfied customers and were therefore safe from the “Pressure Test.”
At the conclusion of it, Ryan and Tali — who conspired the most against others and had delusions of grandeur — appropriately, made the two worst molten lava cakes, and Ryan was ousted.
On Tuesday night’s episode, Christine continued to impress Ramsay with her strawberry shortcake even though it had more blueberries and raspberries than strawberry. Felix, on the other hand, was in grave danger of going home after making a tiramisu that all judges agreed didn’t look right. Judge Joe Bastianich didn’t like her using macadamia nuts on it. Tears fell from her face as she heard the comments, but she started crying when he declared it “your worst performance.”
In the end, she was in the bottom three, then bottom two, but was saved as Scott made an even worse dessert. Next week, the Top 12 face a food truck challenge. “Master Chef” airs on Fox on Monday and Tuesday nights.
Criticism from Within Department: There’s an unspoken rule in Hollywood that creative people don’t criticize other creative folks. So it was refreshing when Shonda Rhimes, the African American executive producer of “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Private Practice,” and “Scandal,” called out Amy Sherman-Palladino for her new ABC Family show “Bunheads.” Rhimes tweeted: “Hey @abcfunheads: Really? You couldn’t cast even ONE young dancer of color so I could feel good about my kid watching this show? NOT ONE?”
On her online interview show “Media Mayhem,” host Allison Hope Weiner told the showrunner she didn’t think women should go after other women creators (wrong angle — if a man had issued the tweet, would it have made the point more valid and therefore, more imperative for the producer to respond to it?). Sherman-Palladino looked worse when she said in a very flippant way:
“I’m not going to get into a pissing match with Shonda Rhimes because she’s got like 15,000 shows. She’s doing just fine for herself. As far as the women thing goes, I’ve always felt like women have never supported — in a general sense — women to the level that they should. It’s been my experience through my entire career that the biggest boosts I’ve gotten and the biggest accolades have always been from men.
“I think it’s a shame, but to me, it is what it is. Maybe they feel it’s too competitive, I don’t know.”
Sherman-Palladino may have a point about competitiveness between women, but in this case, that was beside the point. She said she “wouldn’t do go after another woman” and “frankly, I wouldn’t go after another showrunner.”
The producer finally addressed the actual issue of diversity by explaining, “I had to find four girls who could dance on point and who could also act. And they give you a week and a half to do it. That’s how pilots go.”
It’s a shame because Amy Sherman-Palladino was the creator of “Gilmore Girls” (2000-2007) and cast Keiko Agena as the best friend of Alexis Bledel’s Rory Gilmore even when it took place in a small town in Connecticut. Sadly, like many producers who’re asked why their show is all white, Sherman-Palladino gave the same old excuse. Yes, I’ve heard from creators that they have very little time to cast their shows, but in many cases, it’s a reflection of their lack of interaction with people of color that makes them choose white and white only.
Do better next time. And stop making excuses.
Till next time, keep your eyes and ears open.
Guy Aoki, co-founder of the Media Action Network for Asian Americans, writes from Glendale. He can be reached at email@example.com. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.