Ming Tsai in China: A taste of the Olympics

Kathy Uek

Ming Tsai, Natick resident and chef/owner of Blue Ginger in Wellesley, has been in Beijing attending the Olympic Games, checking out the food scene and cooking.

Traveling with is wife, Polly, and the chef de cuisine of Blue Ginger, Jon Taylor, Tsai, who is the host/executive producer of "Simply Ming," a cooking show on PBS, took a few moments this weekend to chat about his Olympic experience thus far.

When was the last time you were in China?

Ming Tsai: Lately, I've been to China fairly frequently. We shot segments for my show, "Simply Ming," there in 2006, as well as a bunch of vodcasts on different things like a Bejing seafood market, all the types of tofu you can buy here, etc. Before this trip, I'd been to Beijing twice in the past 18 months.

What are the major differences you've seen in the country and in the cuisine since then?

M.T.: There's a lot more Western fast food, which is not good, but there's also more high-end dining too those are very good, like Daniel Boulud's place, Maison Boulud, and the Japanese restaurant Shiro Matsu and the Italian restaurant, Ristorante Sadler, all at Legation Quarter.

What places in China have you visited on this trip?

M.T.: Since this was my chef de cuisine Jon's first trip to China, we made sure to go to the classic places like the Great Wall and the night market, but the majority of our time is spent at the Olympics, working. I did three segments in Bejing for the "Today Show," which has been a blast. The segments are a matter of minutes on-screen, but take hours of preparation beforehand.

Does any place have special meaning for you?

M.T.: Yes, Beijing University, where my grandfather was comptroller in the 1930s-40s and where my father grew up. My grandfather was particularly proud that he was the man that added the sewer system and running water!

What Olympic events are you attending?

M.T.: As many as possible! My wife loves gymnastics, so that's a must.

Do you have a particular interest in those sports and who are you cheering for?

M.T.: I think we're probably cheering for the same people everyone back home in the States is cheering for Nastia, Alicia and Shawn from the U.S. gymnastics team, (and) Michael Phelps from U.S. swimming.

Because the Olympics are in China, do you foresee different cooking/dining trends coming to the U.S.?

M.T.: I hope that people will start eating more stir-fries and more vegetables in general. There is so much in Chinese cuisine that is inherently healthy for you.

A good stir-fry uses a minimum of oil you just rely on a screaming hot wok to do the work. Add a lean protein like chicken, pork or shrimp and plenty of vegetables and you've got an extremely simple, healthy meal.

I'd also be happy to see more noodle dishes. In Beijing, you see more noodles than rice, because wheat is a chief crop in the north, where Beijing is. I've said it many times, I've never met a noodle I didn't like. They're so versatile and, again, good for you. And dumplings are everywhere here, something I'd love to see more of in the U.S. I don't think the bugs will make it though!

How does your cuisine at Blue Ginger compare to that prepared in China?

M.T.: Well, Blue Ginger is East-West cuisine. There's definitely a lot of Chinese influence on the menu, since I am Chinese, but there's also Thai, Japanese, Korean, Indian.

We don't serve solely Chinese food at (Blue Ginger). In our lounge, we serve what I call Asian tapas. We have "Ming's Bings" on the lounge menu, which are very traditional round dumplings you can get from street vendors in China. The traditional filling is gingered pork, which we serve, but we also serve a bacon cheeseburger bing, red roast duck, tofu-mushroom vegetarian ... which you're not going to find in China. It's been fun doing a traditional Chinese dumpling and making it East-West.

What do you think about holding the Olympics in China?

M.T.: I think it's awesome to show the culture of China to the world. China did an amazing job on the infrastructure the buildings and arenas are abolutely out-of-sight. This was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime event and we are blessed to be here.

The MetroWest Daily News