If you’ve never been to Blue Ginger restaurant in Boston – the celebrated brainchild of Macy’s Culinary Council Chef Ming Tsai – I strongly urge you to check it out ASAP. In course after course, Ming manages to serve up savory, inventive, East-meets-West cuisine that never leaves the diner feeling “full”. In light of this – and since practically everyone’s New Year’s resolution is to lighten up a bit – I thought he’d be the ideal candidate for our first Look Who’s Cooking blog of 2012! And boy, was I right...
AM: Happy 2012! How did you ring in the New Year?
MT: As we have done for 13 years, we served a fantastic New Year's Eve five course tasting menu at Blue Ginger. My family came in for the first seating so I could spend some time with them. It was a packed house as usual and everyone had a great time. At the end of the night, I rang in the New Year with 40 of my staff and a few late diners. We watched the ball drop, toasted over bubbly...
AM: That sounds delicious! What was on the menu?
MT: The tasting menu for New Year's Eve started off with a Crab & Mango Parfait with lime emulsion and crispy panko-crusted avocado, followed by a Butter Poached Salmon and an Asian Duck Confit with root vegetable roulade & three vinegar syrup. I also made a foie gras sauce – people were literally licking it off their plates!
Next was the beef tenderloin course. For that, we smoked the beef with our house-made tea rub and served it with black garlic butter, a Cabernet Sauvignon demi and shiitake-potato cake. Then, there was a trio of desserts. It was a meal that people will remember forever!
AM: That sounds pretty decadent! This time of year, everyone is going on health-kicks. Do you have any advice on how our readers can eat healthy?
MT: Well, first off, it’s very important to drink a lot of water. And if you sweat a lot, even more. Also, whole grains are very good for you. The house rice at Blue Ginger is actually half white and half brown rice. Try this at home. Your kids won't notice the difference. It's also easy to substitute 50% of the white flour in recipes with whole wheat. You should also check out the most perfect grain on the planet: Quinoa. It’s a complete protein and a great source of fiber, iron and magnesium. I recommend cooking it like risotto. It's delicious. I also love farro. And I just had freekeh for the first time – amazing. It's a green wheat that is sun-dried and roasted. Since it is harvested while still young, it retains more nutrients and is freakin' delicious.
Cutting back on meat can help a lot, too. Beans and tofu are a great stand-in. I like to say, “reduce the runners and increase the swimmers.” It means eat less meat and more seafood. By the way, most chickens swim since they are cousins of the duck.
Another healthy idea? Take mom’s advice and eat more greens. As far as I know, you can’t overdose on kale, cabbage and broccoli. Americans just don't eat enough vegetables. Stir-fry some broccoli with garlic and ginger and the whole family won't be able to get enough.
AM: What are some of your favorite healthy dishes for breakfast, lunch and dinner?
MT: Every morning I have a shake that contains Spiru-Tein, chia seeds, acai powder, flaxseeds, Rice Dream, a super food product called "Pure Synergy," and one banana. I drink that with toasted 3-grain bread. It’s a great energy boost! At lunch, I try to go vegetarian with a lot of salads and soups since they are great vehicles for flavor and typically contain lots of veggies. For dinner, I think it’s important to eat whatever you want! But everything you eat should be in moderation, of course.
AM: Is it hard to stay in shape when you cook such delicious gourmet meals all the time?
MT: Everything must be kept in balance. It is very simple. You have to move and get your heart rate up in some way every day. For me, it's Bikram yoga, squash or golf. The latter may not look like a cardiovascular workout, but walking 5 to 6 miles with 16 pounds on your back counts.
AM: What are some good-for-you Winter foods?
MT: I love to braise and make soups with a variety of root vegetables and tons of roasted garlic. Garlic contains potent antioxidants, which is why it has so many health benefits. Sweet potatoes are one of the best sources of beta-carotene. Turnips are a good source of vitamin C and less starchy than other root vegetables, they’re so great for dieters. Colorful vegetables are typically thought to be better for you but there are exceptions. Parsnips, which look like white carrots, are a good source of fiber and folic acid. Daikon is another favorite of mine. It’s great for circulation.
AM: What is your favorite recipe from the Macy’s Culinary Council Holiday Cookbook?
MT: I can't pick just one. But, I have to say, the dumplings are always a crowd-pleaser! Making them is also a great way to get the whole family together in the kitchen. And, kids can have fun with it, too.
AM: Was it a fun project to work on?
MT: It was great to hang out with all my fellow chefs and collaborate on the Macy’s Culinary Council Holiday Cookbook. Everyone was so great to work with and, surprise, we were talking about food non-stop!
AM: Lastly, what new, exciting projects do you have coming up?
MT: My fifth cookbook will be coming out in the Fall of 2012 and the 10th season of Simply Ming is in pre-production ... there’s always so much going on!