Christine Hà Explains Why MasterChef Brings Out A Different Side Of Gordon Ramsay - Exclusive Interview

Christine Hà is back to visit her old stomping ground as she returns as a guest judge on the hit show "MasterChef." Hà, who famously won the competition in 2012, has returned several times over the years as a guest judge, but this time things are a little different. Now Hà is judging her fellow Gen Xers to decide who will move on to represent their generation in the new season of "MasterChef: Generations." 

We got the chance to speak with Hà in an exclusive interview about the often-forgotten Gen X and why she feels that this middle generation, with their knowledge of cookbooks and technology, is poised to win the competition this year. Coming from a former winner, that should not be taken lightly. Hà also spoke about her friendship with fellow "MasterChef" judge chef Gordon Ramsay, as well as how she elevates simple home dishes to make them restaurant quality. 

Generations of chefs

This season of MasterChef features people from four generations. What are some of the foods that you like to make in your family with different generations?

I would say probably the baby boomers' generation, that would be like my parents. They cooked everything from scratch. They didn't write down recipes. Their recipe repertoire was probably also smaller, but they were really good at what they know how to cook. 

For example, a lot of the more traditional Vietnamese dishes that are very, I guess, authentic to what they were meant to be from Vietnam. Those are things that I like to learn from the boomer generation. And then my generation is after that. I think we came up in the age where international cuisines were much more accessible because of things like television, the internet. So we learned from our parents and the boomer generation how to cook certain authentic dishes in the traditional method. But, then we're able to learn a lot about different cuisines around the world and kind of fuse these different international cuisines and flavors into the more traditional foods that we grew up eating and learning to cook from our parents.

Then I would say the generations after my Gen X, they're much more well-versed in the digital age. They are very good and savvy at learning things online from YouTube and TikTok and Instagram, but they don't necessarily have the life experience or perhaps yet the financial leisure, all the leisure funds that they're able to spend on traveling and actually tasting all of these foods themselves. 

A lot of it, I think the younger generation cooks from learning online, but not necessarily having been able to experience the foods themselves. I would say that kind of distinguishes all the generations. I would say there's not a lot of younger generations in my family. All of my nieces and nephews are very young; they're not quite ... they're just barely learning to cook. I have yet to really cook with them and see what their cooking style is, but they have a lot of knowledge. They just don't have a lot of experience. That's what I would say is kind of what I see from the strengths of the different generations.

Comfort foods of home

Do you have any favorite meals from your childhood?

Yeah, I think a lot of my favorite meals stem from the dishes, the home-cooked dishes that my mom or my grandmother or my aunts would make. Very traditional Vietnamese noodle soups or very low-brow comfort food, like braised pork belly, steamed rice, different simple vegetable soups or egg omelets. Very simple foods I think are what make me very nostalgic for the foods of my youth. They're the things that, like I said, my grandmother and my mother would cook, and they're the recipes and dishes that they learned from their mothers and their grandmothers when they were living in Vietnam.

Do you have any tips for creating these very delicious but very simple dishes?

I think that it depends on your audience. Always know your audience. I would make that simple food and stick to the recipes that my grandmother or my mother would use if I were just cooking at home for myself and my husband. 

But let's say I wanted to put that dish on my menu at my restaurant or do a dinner for a lot of people that are, you know, a little bit elevated dinner experience. Then I would think about using perhaps a more expensive cut of meat. Definitely the plating will change. Using different ingredients to kind of elevate the dish in that experience and modernizing the dish as well.

There's still reasons why there are certain dishes that are classic and you want to kind of stay with the essence of that dish. There are also a lot of fun new things that you can do with these dishes depending on who your audience is. So, I always say know your audience, whether it's the MasterChef judges, whether it's your boss who's a chef, or your family who just wants something casual and reminiscent of what they're used to eating growing up. Or, a fine dining experience. Know who you're cooking for and you can always do different twists to match the audience in terms of using the same dish.

Knowledge versus experience

I feel like Gen X is always the forgotten generation. They kind of get passed up between the boomers and the millennials. So what are they bringing to the competition?

I think that my generation, we are kind of the generation that straddles the two different generations, where we grew up in an analog age, we know how everything was before the digital age, where we understand like a landline phone, we understand much more rudimentary forms and techniques of cooking. 

At the same time, we got internet and social media fairly early on when we were able to grasp and learn it. For me, myself, I'm on the end cusp of the Gen X. I would say in my teens, I started experiencing internet and social media and all that.

I think from this generation, we are able to easily search and learn for things online and learn about new dishes and techniques. At the same time, we've been cooking in the kitchen a lot longer than the younger generation. We have that true life experience.

I think my generation, we're of age now, we have a lot of more leisure spending money, we can go out and eat at all different types of restaurants and spend money on travel so that we can try cuisines from around the world. We have much more real life hands-on experience compared to the younger generation, but we also have much more internet savvy and a wider knowledge base than the boomer generation.

For Gen Z, what skills and traits are they bringing to the kitchen that's unique to them?

I think that generation has the widest knowledge base in terms of what they have picked up online just through media, whether it's social media platforms, YouTube, all of the digital things, that they can learn about every recipe, every dish, every ingredient, every technique by just doing a simple search. 

All of the information, they have so much information at their fingertips able to look up and learn different things. I think their strength is that they have the widest knowledge base coming into the competition, but perhaps the least amount of true life experience and true experience in the kitchen.

Make the flavors harmonize

When you were judging in this episode, what made the difference for the dishes that made it to the next round and those that didn't? And were there any consistent mistakes that you saw across the board?

I would say, I think for me, regardless of generation or style of cooking, it all comes down to [asking], "Do these flavors harmonize and do they make sense together?" 

It's beyond necessarily just the taste of it, but also the texture, the temperature. Do all of these things work together to harmonize in a bite that is really enjoyable? The dishes that we passed had to touch upon all of these. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter what generation you are, what culture you're from. If you can make a solid dish where a bite will sing in your mouth when you taste it, that's what gives you the green light to move forward. That's what makes you a great cook.

Working with Gordon Ramsay

What was it like coming back to MasterChef this time as a judge?

It hasn't been my first time coming back as a judge. I tend to come back every couple seasons, but it's always great to be reunited with the judges. Like, Gordon is still there and he's always been my favorite judge. It's a different experience when you're on the other side where you actually get to see the workings of their minds when you discuss the dishes together with them. It's a really fun experience. I'm thankful, too, that I know what it's like to be on the contestant side because I know that pressure and how stressful that can be. I like to also play a mentorship role to them.

You mentioned your relationship with Gordon Ramsay, who always comes off as the big scary person. Can you tell me more about that relationship? He did an introduction in one of your cookbooks and you seem to have a really good working relationship with him.

Yeah, I always say, Gordon, he is one of the most charismatic people I've ever met. And very honest. You definitely have to have thick skin, but that's kind of just how it is in the culinary world. People don't. When you're running a busy restaurant kitchen serving many diners, you don't really have the time to pamper things. I understand that, and I don't take things too personally. I think he gives very good constructive criticism.

On MasterChef, particularly, I think he has a different side of him, a softer side of him that shows, because he understands that MasterChef is a show for amateur home cooks. We are not professional culinary chefs who've gone to culinary school. We haven't had that formal training. He understands that. I think his nurturing side comes out more on MasterChef. I always appreciate what Gordon has to say. He's hilarious, he's funny, he's honest, and just very charismatic.

Gen X will bring it home

Finally, what generation do you think is going to take home the trophy this season?

Gen X.


Like I said, I think our strength is that we have a lot of the real life experience. I myself have been cooking in a kitchen with my own two hands for a couple decades, and I'm on the younger end of Gen X. I feel like Gen X has a lot of real life experience.

We have the ability to travel the world and try all the foods, but at the same time, we know how to use [the] internet. If there's an ingredient we're trying to learn about, or a new technique, we can easily search for that and teach ourselves from online. To refine the skills that we've already done in the kitchen ourselves. I think we play to the strengths of all of the generations.

Watch new episodes of "MasterChef: Generations" on Fox.