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On Saturday, April 20th, 2024, Cornell University’s Statler Auditorium in Ithaca, NY, became the stage for a captivating discussion titled “Food, Brand, and Business.” This event was a highlight of the 99th Annual Hotel Ezra Cornell, a prestigious weekend-long educational conference organized by students from the Cornell School of Hotel Administration. The session featured a dynamic exchange between celebrity chef Matthew Merril and Cornell Sophomore, and Christine Hà, the visionary winner of “MasterChef” Season 3, offering insights into culinary innovation and branding in the hospitality industry.

During the chat, Christine Hà shared her journey from a finance professional to a celebrated chef, emphasizing the unexpected twists life can bring. “I often say what you major in will not necessarily be where you end up,” Hà noted, reflecting on her shift from finance to the culinary arts after losing her vision. Her resilience shone through as she recounted, “I didn’t just overcome a disability; I embraced it as a vital part of my culinary expression.”

Matthew Merril facilitated the discussion with insightful queries and shared his own experiences transitioning from television to college. “From baking championships to university challenges, the key ingredient is always passion,” Merril commented, highlighting the continuous learning curve he navigates at Cornell.

The dialogue also explored the intersection of culinary arts and storytelling, a theme near to Hà’s heart. “Food is about storytelling. It’s self-expression and how we relate to others,” Hà explained. This philosophy is palpably reflected in her restaurant concepts, which blend Vietnamese flavors with Texas culture, creating a narrative-rich dining experience.

Merril and Hà also delved into the role of social media in modern culinary careers. Hà pointed out, “Social media isn’t just about broadcasting what you cook; it’s about communicating who you are through your food.” This sentiment was echoed by Merril, who discussed the importance of authenticity in engaging with a digital audience.

The fireside chat not only offered a deep dive into the personal and professional lives of two dynamic chefs but also highlighted their shared belief in the power of culinary arts as a medium for personal history and cultural expression. The event underscored the importance of embracing one’s roots while innovatively pushing culinary boundaries.

Attendees left the Statler Auditorium inspired by the stories of overcoming challenges and the transformative power of food. This discussion at Cornell was a vivid reminder of how deeply food is intertwined with identity and innovation.

Quotes from the Program included:

Christine Hà on Authenticity and Social Media in the Culinary Arts:

  • “Food is really about storytelling. I think a lot of the creative aspect of the culinary arts, I always compare it to creative writing; it’s self-expression, it’s also how we relate to other people.”
  • “You need that confidence to be more experimental in what you do, be more OK with taking risks, whether it’s what you decide to do with your cooking or what you decide to do on social media.”
  • “Authenticity can be picked up so well by your generation. People are now not looking for perfectly curated pictures or perfectly edited videos; you kind of want that more raw, behind-the-scenes look.”
  • “Social media is really the content that most people consume these days… It puts you as the creator directly in touch with your audience… The response from your followers and your audience is pretty much immediate and direct with social media.”
  • “You have to learn to filter through that negativity and then focus on a lot of the positive… It gives you the ability to directly connect with the people who are supporting you day to day.”
  • “Authenticity is so important now on social media, online. There is a different persona that you put online of yourself, but in a way, it’s an extension of who you are.”

Matthew Merril on Balancing Authenticity with Online Presence:

  • “I find that the balance of authenticity with you know creativity and also how frequently you have to create is tricky… It’s so important, especially now, to stay true to who you are while engaging with your followers.”
  • “The most important thing you can do as someone leading food media is diversify your platforms as far as you can, as fast as you can.”

Christine Hà on Navigating Success:

  • “MasterChef really did teach me a lot about myself… I learned to be more confident and trust my gut and my instincts more on what it is I want to serve, what I think is good.”
  • “You definitely have to work hard. Talent is helpful, you have to also work hard at it. I busted my **** after MasterChef, trying to figure out what opportunities I should take.”
  • “Be proactive. I learned that from losing my vision. I learned that being a woman of color, being in an industry where it’s not often that women of color with a disability get heard.”

Christine Hà on Resilience and Opportunity:

  • “I didn’t know what someone else was cooking so I wouldn’t psyche myself out. As long as I focus on what I can learn from each challenge and take the judges’ advice into consideration, that’s the best I can ask of myself.”
  • “Opportunity—that means putting yourself out there and seizing the opportunities that come to you. A lot of times people like to sit back and wait for things to happen to them, but I always say you have to be proactive.”
  • “It starts with being curious and being not scared to ask these questions… Once we get over the fear, then that’s when things can really start happening.”

These quotes underscore the importance of facing challenges head-on, embracing change, and the necessity of being proactive and authentic in one’s career path, especially in fields as dynamic and public as culinary arts and media.

Click on the Video Below To Watch the Interview:

Chef Christine Hà Restaurants:

  1. The Blind Goat: A modern Vietnamese eatery, The Blind Goat is Christine Ha’s first restaurant. It recently reopened in Spring Branch, Houston, with a fresh look and feel. The Blind Goat offers a delightful fusion of traditional Vietnamese dishes and modern flavors. You can find more information on their website: The Blind Goat1:
  2. Xin Chào: Pronounced “Sin Chao,” Xin Chào is located just north of Tinsley ParkXin Chao (

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