Becoming celebrity chefs: Houston restaurant owners, MasterChef alum chime in on what it takes

Season two of 'Next Level Chef' premieres on FOX 26 after the Super Bowl and Gordon Ramsay refers to it as ‘the world’s toughest culinary competition.’

The show features a one-of-kind cooking gauntlet where 18 chefs with various backgrounds compete to win the grand prize of $250,000. 

But what does it take to become a celebrity chef? 

FOX 26’s Natalie Hee asked two Houstonians who’ve competed under Gordon Ramsay’s wing for their take. 

Christine Ha was crowned the winner of MasterChef season 3 in 2012. 

Since then, her list of impressive accomplishments has grown exponentially to now include a James Beard Award nomination, a New York Times best-selling cookbook, and three restaurant concepts in Houston.

SUGGESTED: Houston contestant joins Hell’s Kitchen Season 21 premieres September 29

Ha's restaurants include The Blind Goat on 8145 Long Point Road, Xin Chao on 2310 Decatur Street, and Stuffed Belly on 8133 Long Point Road, which is slated to open in March 2023. All three restaurants are located in Houston.

Her latest project will be expanding The Blind Goat from its downtown spot at Bravery Chef Food Hall to a permanent location in Spring Branch, and also venturing into a new culinary territory. 

"This kitchen is about two, two and a half times the size of my entire station that was in the food hall," Ha said. 

"In the same parking lot, we have Stuffed Belly. We'll be doing a lot more American classic comfort sandwiches and kind of veering away from Vietnamese and southeast Asian cuisine," Ha continued. 

Ha’s also known as 'The Blind Cook.' on Instagram.

While she certainly makes it look easy, moving around the kitchen is a lot more complicated for her than most chefs.

"In my early 20s, when I was finishing up college was when I started cooking, and also simultaneously, started experiencing the vision loss," Ha said. 

Her vision loss has deteriorated more significantly over time, due to a rare autoimmune condition. 

"Cooking is very much a multi-sensory experience. They say with food people eat with their eyes first because they visually see a dish but when you take that away, that’s one less thing to be distracted by," Ha said. 

No matter what the concept, Ha says she channels inspiration from her late mother, who died battling cancer in 1993. Ha was only 14 years old. 

"I find that I started cooking because I missed her foods, so it’s been my white whale all throughout all of my life to be able to replicate all of her dishes," Ha said. 

She encourages any aspiring chef competing to become the next culinary celebrity to bring their personal stories to the table as well. 

FOOD AND DRINKS: Cracker Barrel offers free food for a year to couples who get engaged for Valentine's Day

"My advice for home cooks: always put yourself on a plate and tell your own story on a plate, meaning it doesn’t have to be fancy, fine dining, but be proud of what you’re serving. And ask yourself, whatever you put on a plate, whatever you’re cooking, would want to eat yourself, and would you want to serve this to your parents and your grandparents," Ha said. 

Similar to Ha's advice, MasterChef alum Joseph Manglicmot, suggests every aspiring chef stay true to who they are.

"Be really confident in your skill. Don’t question your abilities and come with the energy. Come with the personality. Be charismatic," said Manglicmot. 

Manglicmot is the brains behind Washington Avenue's newest cocktail bar, 'The Ivy House' (2811 Washington Ave., Houston). 

"This is phase one. There are two more phases coming after this. You'll definitely see a lot of my Filipino flair over there. Champagne and caviar bumps," Manglicmot said.

RESTAURANTS: Valentine's Day 2023: Romantic restaurants in Houston offering specials

"I knew that the first thing I did after the show had to be huge, so this is what we came up with. I always told them I wanted to do a cocktail bar that served really good food. Right now, we are only serving steak frites; the best steak frites in the nation," Manglicmot continued. 

Manglicmot competed in season 11 of MasterChef legends which was filmed during the pandemic and aired in 2021. 

Since the show, Manglicmot partnered up with fellow Houstonian and runner-up finalist, Suu Khin to launch a sauce company called 'Naga.' 

"There’s so many Asian sauces out there, but we really wanted to highlight our culture of southeast Asians. We actually wanted to start Naga right after the show aired. But with all the supply chain issues that were going on at the time, with the way the market was at the time, we just decided to push it back. And in the back of my head, it always haunted me knowing we’re not going to be nearly as relevant as we were when the show first aired," Manglicmot said. 

"But me and my partner try to do appearances on shows throughout the year to stay relevant. We recently appeared on 'House of Ho' on HBO Max," Manglicmot continued. 

Manglicmot said Naga Food Co. is expected to launch soon. For any announcements, follow the company's Instagram account here.