Platelist: Blue Ginger's Star Chef Ming Tsai

Star chef dishes about early influences, evolution of his trademark cuisine.

ByABC News
November 12, 2009, 1:32 PM

Nov. 18, 2009 — -- Ming Tsai's parents were like many recent immigrants. They nursed high hopes that their youngest son would achieve professional success in his adopted homeland.

They gave him every advantage they could, sending him to Philips Andover, the exclusive Massachusetts boarding school, and then to Yale. Ming appeared set to follow in the footsteps of his father, a Chinese rocket scientist whose job with the U.S. government had taken him from Beijing to California and finally to Dayton, Ohio, where Ming grew up.

But something happened on the way to the science lab: Ming stopped to check out the kitchen. His mother was founder of Dayton's prize Chinese restaurant, Mandarin Kitchen.

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"I was 13, 14 years old, and that became my summertime job," said Ming. "And that was significant because it really hooked me into the business, because it was so simple. I realized if you make good food at a decent price, you can make people happy through food. And I thought, wow that's pretty cool, I might want to pursue this."

Pursue it he did. Ming took cooking classes at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris on a college summer break. He earned a master's degree from the hotel school at Cornell University and worked as sous chef at Silk at the Mandarin Hotel in San Francisco.

Then, in 1998, he started the restaurant that would make his name: Blue Ginger, in Wellesley, Mass.

Based on the excellence of its innovative East-West cuisine, Blue Ginger was named "Best New Restaurant" by Boston Magazine and was nominated by the James Beard Foundation as "Best New Restaurant 1998." Esquire magazine named Ming "Chef of the Year 1998." The Beard Foundation crowned Ming "2002 Best Chef Northeast" and, since 2002, the Zagat Restaurant Guide has rated Blue Ginger the "Second Most Popular Boston Restaurant." In 2009, Ming and Blue Ginger won IFMA's Silver Plate Award in the Independent Restaurant category recognizing overall excellence in the country.

But long before any of it was possible, Ming had to break the news to his parents that he would not, after all, be pursuing a career in engineering.