Cooking Blind: A Meditation On Memory

We humans are much more resilient than we think.

I love to cook. I am also blind. How do I reconcile these two seemingly contrary notions?

That’s a question I’m asked often, along with, “How do you use knives without cutting yourself? Do you ever burn your hands? How do you know when something’s done cooking? Has your sense of taste heightened since you no longer have your sight?”

Sighted people are fascinated by my methodology in the kitchen. They watch with wide eyes (or so I’m told) whenever I give a cooking demonstration. They applaud with awe, as though I’d just pulled a rabbit out of a hat. “You’re amazing,” they say to me afterwards as I clumsily fumble for their outstretched hand.

“Thank you,” I say, meeting their palm, truly appreciative of the praise. But honestly, I don’t feel very amazing.

Christine Ha, MasterChef U.S. Season 3 Winner on FOX
Christine Ha, MasterChef U.S. Season 3 Winner on FOX

Cooking is something I just do. It’s as much a part of me as my penchant for prose and my disdain for soggy sandwiches. Slicing shallots and searing pork skin are routine, things I do day in and day out, much like my morning coffee and bedtime flossing habits. Sure, I have to do things a little differently nowadays. I pay more attention to what I hear, smell, feel and taste when I work my way through a dish.

Simply by scent, I know when garlic has gone from raw to just right and then quickly to burnt. Feeling the flesh tells me if the pork is uncooked, still too tough, or perfectly tender. There are raised bump dots pasted on my stove knobs, marking the various heat levels from simmer to ripping hot. And as a nod to the technique by which all Asians were taught to measure water for rice, I use the knuckles on my fingers to determine the volume of coconut juice in a cup.

When people ask me how I cook without sight, I say I’ve just learned to adapt. We humans are much more resilient than we think. Our bodies heal, and even when they don’t, we find a way to compensate. I’m almost certain if you were to lose your vision like me, you’d learn how to keep living life with abandon, doing the things you do without apology.

I cook because it’s what I love to do, because it’s a meditation on memory. When I braise pork belly in this sweet and savory sauce, I am recreating the past, and this privilege—to be able to share my story with you—is what I find truly amazing.

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