By Paul Giorgio
Ming Tsai was raised in Dayton, Ohio, where he spent hours cooking alongside his mother and father at their family-owned restaurant, Mandarin Kitchen. Ming Tsai attended Yale University, earning his degree in Mechanical Engineering. He later studied at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris during a semester abroad.
In 1998, Ming opened Blue Ginger in Wellesley, MA; the restaurant specialized in the best in East-West cuisine, service and wine. In its first year, Blue Ginger received 3 stars from the Boston Globe, was named “Best New Restaurant” by Boston Magazine, was nominated by the James Beard Foundation as “Best New Restaurant 1998,” and Esquire Magazine honored Ming as “Chef of the Year 1998.” The James Beard Foundation crowned Ming “2002 Best Chef Northeast” and, since 2002, the Zagat Restaurant Guide has rated Blue Ginger the “2nd Most Popular Boston Area Restaurant.”
Many of us are familiar with his Emmy nominated TV show “Simply Ming” that has taught a legion of loyal viewers Ming’s signature “one pot” cooking system. The show is now in its eighth season.
So who is the man who had earned these many accolades? We found out in an interview with Ming himself.
PG: How many restaurants do you have?
MT: I just have Blue Ginger. This way I can be with my kids ~ It is about quality of life ~ I have consciously made a descision. Also, I’m 46, so I have years ahead of me to open another.
What is your first memory of being in the kitchen?
I have so many. At the age of 2 or 3 I remember breaking down a chicken. Then later when I was a little older, around 6, I baked Duncan Hines cakes. I also made fried rice when I was 10 for friends of my mom who happened to stop by our house.
Yes, I’ve seen a couple of your shows with your mom “guest starring”. I think it was “East Meets West.”
She has been on every season ~she’s 79 now. I really enjoy being with her and cooking with her.
How did you get started in the culinary world?
My family owned a Chinese restaurant in Dayton, OH.
Last year, you were on “Iron Chef.” What was that experience like?
Yes, we taped the “Iron Chef Competitions” over a six week period. Iit was a riot and hard work. It was great to do it, but I’m sorry I lost.
Where does your heart lie ~ in cooking, running a restaurant, or writing a book/cookbook?
Cooking for sure and cooking for live people. I cook to make people happy. I love it when my 8 yr. old eats my food, but I also enjoy TV. I also enjoy the writing my cookbooks, but lately I have been writing about food allergies and how to cook around them. My heart also lies in fighting childhood obesity and I am working with Michele Obama on this.
Why are there so many kids with food allergies today?
They don’t get outdoors, everything is so sterile. I think we should take every child, bring him to a farm and roll him around on the ground.
Are you ever not in the mood to cook?
“The best food in the world is someone else’s” is a chef motto. I still cook for friends in the restaurant but I don’t work the line. I travel a week per month, so it makes it harder to cook.
What’s your favorite non-Asian meal or cuisine?
I would have to say New American Cuisine pioneered by Thomas Keller of Sonoma Valley’s French Laundry.
Who cooks at home?
My wife and I. Polly is a great cook
What kind of music really gets you going in the kitchen?
We play all kinds during prep but we never play music during service.
Which chef inspired/inspires you most?
A couple ~ I can think of Thomas Keller and Ken Orringer.
Are friends nervous having you over for dinner?
Friends really don’t invite me to dinner, although I had a fabulous meal at the home of John Abbot recently ~ He’s the head of WGBH and his wife is a fantastic cook.
What’s your go-to comfort food?
I have a couple. If you’re hung over, fried food. But I love braised meats like short ribs or duck.
Chef Tsai is a member of the Macy’s Culinary Council, an exclusive council of expert chefs from across the country who host culinary events at Macy’s stores nationwide throughout the year and also provide Macy’s customers with helpful shopping and cooking tips, recipes and entertaining ideas. The Council includes:
• Cat Cora
• Emeril Lagasse
• Gale Gand
• Andrew Robinson, master sommelier
• Govind Armstrong
• Marcus Samuelsson
• Michelle Bernstein
• Ming Tsai
• Nancy Silverton
• Rick Bayless
• Takashi Yagihashi
• Tim Scott
• Todd English
• Tom Douglas
• Tyler Florence
• Wolfgang Puck
To view live streaming video of the chefs in action, get delicious recipes and cooking tips, meet all the chefs on the Council, and find out when your favorite chef will be at a Macy’s near you, please visit www.macys.com/campaign/social?campaign_id=59&channel_id=1.