We Know What Local Culinary Trends Chef Ming Tsai is Most Excited About
The star of "Simply Ming" is prepping to host the James Beard Book, Broadcast & Journalism Awards, and tells us how he's looking forward to promoting the New England chefs, trends, and local charities close to his heart.
As one of food television’s most charismatic chefs, Ming Tsai is frequently invited to take the stage. So when the James Beard Foundation tapped him to host its upcoming Book, Broadcast & Journalism Awards in New York on April 26, he happily said yes. “It’s always a huge honor,” he says of the chance to participate in what’s known as the Oscars of the food world.
Tsai is easily one of the busiest chefs around. In addition to owning two Boston area restaurants -- Blue Ginger in Wellesley and Blue Dragon in Fort Point Channel -- he produces and stars in “Simply Ming,” his award-winning public television program produced by WGBH, now in its thirteenth season. He is also the author of five cookbooks, a proponent of several charities, and a James Beard award winner himself, named Best Chef Northeast in 2002. Despite a can’t-stop, won’t-stop schedule, he never misses an opportunity to praise a colleague, especially one who is up for a Beard award.
“Jacques is a great friend,” Tsai says of chef Jacques Pepin, nominated this year for best in-studio television program. “He cannot be celebrated enough. He’s a role model for every chef. He’s amazing without even trying.” Tsai recalls how the two first met in 1997, a year before he opened Blue Ginger. He attended a taping of “Julia & Jacques Cooking at Home” at Julia Child’s Cambridge home. “It was like watching two best friends,” he says. “Jacques was so gracious and nice.”
The chef is also quick to give props to the pioneers of Boston’s fine dining scene. Trailblazers like chefs Gordon Hamersley, Lydia Shire and Jasper White, he says, “put Boston on the map,” paving the way for people like him. “I consider myself the second wave,” he says of his place in the local food scene’s progression.
One of the trends he is excited about is how Fort Point Channel has become one of the hottest culinary neighborhoods in town. He’s impressed that chefs Joanne Chang and Barbara Lynch recognized the growth potential of the area before he did. Restaurateurs, he says, are excited about the energy and new business that General Electric will bring when the corporation sets up its headquarters along the channel.
Hosting the media awards will give him an opportunity to mention his charitable work with Family Reach, a non-profit that provides financial help and support to families who have children with cancer. He serves as president of the organization’s national advisory board. More than five years ago, he met its director at a charity event. She contacted him soon after with a request. One of the charity’s young recipients, in the end stages of the disease, had a last wish – to meet him and eat his food. “Of course, I said yes,” he says, still moved and humbled by the honor. “We talked about living and celebrating life,” he says of that meeting.
The experience inspired him to create “Cooking Live!” a series of gala fundraisers to benefit the charity. In cities including New York, Chicago, Denver and San Francisco, Tsai gathers fellow chefs and other luminaries to show off their cooking skills as part of a five-course dinner. This year, the Boston gala will take place May 3 at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel near Boston Common. Chefs Tiffani Faison and Michael Mina will be among those featured. “We raise millions at these events,” Tsai says. “Food is a great conduit, a great way to help,” he says.
There’s plenty to do before May. Between gigs, Tsai brushes up on the Beard nominees so he can be a prepared host at the end of the month. “I plan to get a good night’s sleep and have fun with it,” he says.
It’s good to hear that the chef-philanthropist sleeps every now and then.
For details about “Cooking Live!” in Boston, and to learn how you can help Ming’s favorite charities, visit ming.com.