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Chef Interviews

From TV shows to charity work, this versatile chef has never failed to fascinate his clientele. Ming Tsai has made his mark in the culinary world through his unique and creative East West cooking styles. Ming has partnered with Target for a line of cookware and foods.

EBS: Having received a degree from Yale University for Mechanical Engineering, has it helped you in your present career?
MT: It’s helped me in problem-solving and thinking analytically, For example, when I did a business plan, I found spreadsheets easy to do. Also, I use those skills every day at work. I learned how to problem-solve quickly and efficiently. Now, I work with Kyocera to develop knives, and I also just designed a piece of jewelry, in collaboration with Ylang|23, to benefit Chefs For Humanity.

EBS: Can you tell us about your role in Chefs for Humanity? What inspired its creation and how has it affected you personally?

MT: Chefs for Humanity is a charity I helped found that brings the culinary community together to help people in need. It was formed after the tsunami tragedy — Cat Cora, the president and co-founder (and Food Network Iron Chef), had the great idea to gather together all the culinary professionals she could to respond to people in need across the globe. One of the most amazing things I’ve ever done is go down to Gulfport, Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina.

We organized the food supplies, cooked for hundreds of people, and just tried to help out in any way we could. The devastation was unbelievable — there are no words to describe it. Definitely the most humbling experience of my life, to be able to feed the displaced victims and the police force, to feel I was actually making a difference and helping the relief effort. I really believe it’s so important to give your time and that’s what Chefs For Humanity is all about. For more information, you can check out www.chefsforhumanity.org.

EBS: Tell us about your culinary journey and how you came to open your restaurant Blue Ginger?
MT: Well, I’ve always loved food — cooking with family and, especially, eating with family. My fondest memories all involve food — rolling spring rolls with my mother, the red roast my grandfather made simmering on the stove, and then, later, helping my parents at their restaurant, Mandarin Kitchen. When I was about ten or so, I cooked my first dish for someone else. I made fried rice — and it wasn’t the best fried rice in the world or anything remotely close, but I really enjoyed making a dish for someone and seeing the pleasure they took in eating it. And I was hooked to cooking. Opening Blue Ginger was the natural progression of going to culinary school (Le Cordon Bleu), graduating from Cornell’s program, and working in various front and back of house positions.

EBS: What is the concept behind Blue Ginger? What is the most popular dish at Blue Ginger?
MT: I felt there was a void in the restaurant world, and I hoped to fill it by offering tasty East-West cuisine that respected both cultures and blended them well. So, the concept behind Blue Ginger is very simple. It’s the harmonious blend of East and West techniques, ingredients and flavors — good food in a relaxed, comfortable environment. It’s the food I want to eat. With every dish, there’s the play between hot and cold, spicy and sweet, soft and crunchy — I love to play with texture, temperature and flavor.

The most popular dish at Blue Ginger is the Sake-Miso Marinated Alaskan Butterfish with Vegetarian Soba Noodle Sushi, Wasabi Oil and Soy Syrup (recipe)

EBS: How did you start a partnership with Target for the Blue Ginger line? Do you have partnerships with other companies as well?
MT: Target approached me at the time when they were just getting hot — and it’s still the hottest, hippest retailer around in that area. And I saw an opportunity to partner with Target. You know, with my TV show, I’m teaching people East-West cuisine, and Target was the perfect conduit to continue that dialogue. I’m very excited about continuing my relationship with Target. This fall, we’re expanding the line of foodstuffs and launching even more great flavors.

EBS: You have been a popular TV personality for a while now. Not all chefs can perform well on TV, what qualities do you need to be successful in this area?
MT: The Emerils, Marios, Bobbys of the world — even Julia and Jacques — all have one thing in common: belief and confidence in their product. You cannot do TV well with a lack of confidence. I personally believe East-West food is a very tasty way of making food, and I’m a huge lover of wine, which is what my show focuses on.

EBS: How do you manage to handle so many projects, restaurant, TV shows, cookbooks, traveling, charity work, etc, at once?
MT: My engineering background helps me there. I am guilty of emailing, drinking a latte, and driving at the same time. I enjoy multi-tasking — I would be bored not doing a lot of things at once. Also, I surround myself with good, talented people. Ming East-West is a very small company — It’s literally me and two incredibly talented, smart ladies who help me keep track of everything and keep everything on track.

EBS: Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
MT: Hopefully, on the 8th hole at Pebble Beach, lying 160 yards out, hitting my second shot. (Anyone who plays golf will know what I mean.) Professionally, still running Blue Ginger, ideally, still on TV, if the public will have me. Sporadically still writing cookbooks. Hopefully having a presence in China. Hopefully having a presence and being at the forefront of new technology –
podcasting, video-on-demand, etc.

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