Ming Tsai’s restaurant Blue Ginger in Wellesley, Mass., serves up Asian tapas and other East-West hybrids. Soon, he will be opening what’s been dubbed an “Asian gastro pub” in Boston called Blue Dragon. He will in town hosting several events during the South Beach Wine and Food Festival this week. Find out how he gets inspired and how Asian cuisine has gone upscale.
Is Asian cuisine now more upscale than it used to be? If yes, why is that?
Yes. You actually are seeing it in the menu descriptions - it is much broader than chow mein or pork in brown sauce. You are seeing much more specialized and unique ingredients called out like lemongrass, miatake mushrooms, black vinegar or fresh galangal. Chefs are also featuring more expensive Asian ingredients like Kobe Beef, Chinese black garlic and Hamachi that demand more creativity and fine dining presentations.
How do you get inspired?
I like to eat. Like most chefs my inspiration comes from eating other chef's food either at home or when traveling. I always look to sample something new or an unexpected combination of ingredients. I then start there and put my East/West twist on it. You know. The best place to eat are peoples homes. The grandparents, and the recipes they pass down, really hold the secret to traditional, great tasting foods.
Have upscale Asian restaurants influenced mom and pop establishments? If yes, in what way?
I don't really think so. Mom and pop's will always have a niche. They provide their community with good and generally lower cost options. I think that with the popularity of Asian foods, some mom & pop's have now been able to focus their cuisines on specific home regions (with distinct culinary influences like Sichuan or Hunan provinces in China).
How can the average person eat healthy on a budget? How can they eat Asian on a budget?
Asian food, in general, has a more healthy and economical ratio of vegetables to proteins. These vegetables are not used as "sides", but as key drivers of flavor and texture.
A good rule of thumb is "if it is green, eat it." It is usually the most inexpensive item in the grocery store and one of the healthiest.
Please tell us a little about what you are doing at the SOBE Wine and Food Festival.
I am doing the Oyster Bash presented by Island Creek Oysters hosted by Ming Tsai and Jeremy Sewall on Friday the 22nd from 5-7p.m. at the Thompson Ocean Drive, 1144 Ocean Drive .
On Saturday the 23rd I am participating in the Celebrity Chef Golf Tournament hosted by José Andrés at Turnberry Isle Miami, and finally I have a cooking demo on Saturday at 4:15 p.m. on the Green Stage followed by a book signing. We'll be featuring a recipe from my interactive cookbook Simply Ming In Your Kitchen. 80 delicious, easy to make recipes that have QR codes that download their shopping lists right into your phone. The codes also link to full length instructional videos specific to that recipe. With over 14 years of TV experience, I find the best way to teach someone how to cook is to show them. These videos do just that. I am literally in their kitchen with them as they prepare their meal. Pretty amazing.