By Diane Henderiks
Ming Tsai grew up in the restaurant biz: his mother and father owned the restaurant Mandarin Kitchen in Dayton, Ohio, and Ming cut his cooking teeth at his family establishment. What is incredibly impressive is that this fantastic chef is also a Yale university graduate with a masters degree from Cornell. While attending Yale he spent his summers at Le Cordon Bleu cooking school in Paris and after graduation from Yale, Ming moved to Paris and trained under renowned Pastry Chef Pierre Herme and then on to Osaka with Sushi Master Kobayashi.
Ming has a son with multiple food allergies which has led him to the position as national spokesperson for the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN), and is proud to have developed the Food Allergy Reference Book, a system that creates safeguards to help food-allergic people dine safely. For four years, Ming worked with Massachusetts legislature to help write Bill S. 2701, which was signed into law in 2009. This groundbreaking legislation, the first of its kind in the United States, requires local restaurants to comply with simple food allergy awareness guidelines.
In 2012, Ming was invited by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to represent the U.S. with the Diplomatic Culinary Partnership Initiative/American Chef Corps. The Chef Corps is a network of chefs from around the country that participate in a number of official government programs that use food as a foundation for public diplomacy efforts at home and abroad.
Diane: Do you see a trend with diners seeking better-for-you options on the menu?
Ming: I would not define it as a “better for you” trend. We’ve all tried that. With that title, people feel they are sacrificing something. I think it’s more that people are being more conscious of what is going into their bodies. Diners today look for more information, allowing them to make their own decision. It’s about moderation. Have the burger you want, but then balance it out later on.
Diane: What’s your definition of “healthy eating”?
Ming: For me, it’s always been about “taste” first. I don’t create “healthy or diet” recipes. I create foods that folks can enjoy. That being said, it’s still about balance and moderation.
Diane: What is your secret to cooking healthier without sacrificing flavor?
Ming: Asian Cooking and, of course, a wok! Asian cooking, in general, has a higher ratio of vegetables per serving. Vegetables are a fantastic way to naturally boost flavor. Likewise, wok cooking uses little oil and is extremely versatile, letting let you choose leaner meats, fish even tofu. Add a little hot sauce, ponzu or other seasoning to suit your own tastes.
Diane: What is your favorite healthier dish on your own menu and why?
Ming: We’ve had this Szechwan Chicken and Sticky Rice dish. There’s no butter or cream and it’s also nut and shellfish-free. The chicken is pan seared, then oven finished. The rice is a 50/50 mix of white and brown rice. The recipe also uses little oil. But, most importantly, it tastes awesome! Love the roasted pepper sauce and the garlic-Szechwan peppercorn glaze. Big flavors that don’t add a lot of fat and calories.
Diane: How about an update on what’s new and exciting in your world?
Ming: It’s been an amazing time for me. We just rolled out my fifth cookbook, Simply Ming In Your Kitchen. It’s a concept that literally brings me right into people’s homes. You know I love to teach. And after 15 years of TV, I have found the best way to teach someone how to cook is to show them. That is why each of the 80 recipes comes with its own instructional video. The book provides the recipe and written instructions. The video demonstrates the techniques and gives other tips for faster, more efficient prep. The first two videos in each chapter are free. (There are 8 chapters so that’s 16 free videos) After that, the remaining 64 cost $1 or less, depending on some purchasing options. One final thing about the book is that each recipe has it’s own QR code that, with any smart device, provides direct access to the video and also downloads the shopping list. No more hand-written notes that many times get left behind on the counter.
After 14 years focusing on one restaurant, I am opening my second in February 2013. It’s called Blue Dragon and it’ll be located down in the Seaport District/Fort Point Channel area of Boston. It’s an 80-seat Asian gastropub featuring a tapas-style menu with an East-West twist. You’ll find things like Sheperd’s Pie with lamb and Indonesian curry or Fish ‘n Chips with a panko crust and black vinegar tartar sauce. There will be a great selection of local and imported beers, wines, sakes and cocktails, featuring our own version of a Dragon Bowl. And the building is spectacular! My partner and great friend Sean Gildea located one of the few stand-alone properties that’s a perfect size and architecturally unique. It’s going to be a great, casual neighborhood place to hang-out and get some great food.