Best-Selling Author Chef Ming's Thriving Career and Travel Tips
“I love the concept of a restaurant,” says Boston-based chef, best-selling author, culinary TV star and Inspirato Member Ming Tsai. “With great food and service, you can make people happy.” It’s that positive approach to cooking that has propelled Chef Ming, as he’s called, to the top of the food chain in the Boston area thanks to his signature restaurant, Blue Ginger, in Wellesley. It’s also led to the opportunity to cook for heads of state, China’s among them, as well as a private dinner party for the late poet Maya Angelou.
Tsai learned the ropes of the restaurant business from his mother who ran a Chinese restaurant, Mandarin Kitchen, in Dayton, Ohio. Despite a blue-blood education—Phillips Andover and a mechanical engineering degree from Yale—that prepared him to follow in his engineering father’s footsteps, not his mother’s, he spent his summers in Paris cooking, first at the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu and then working in area restaurants. It was there that he realized his calling.
“There I was, a first-generation Chinese-American, telling my immigrant parents that I want to be a chef,” laughs Tsai. “My mother was supportive, and my father just said, ‘Son, if you’re not passionate, you will not be a success.’ And that was that, I was a chef.”
Tsai earned his masters in hospitality from Cornell and then landed in Santa Fe, New Mexico’s famed Coyoté Café. By 1998, he and his wife had moved to Boston and opened Blue Ginger, which Tsai describes as a mix of East meets West cuisine (think garlic lobster or butterfish in a creamy miso sauce). In 2002, the James Beard Foundation named him Best Chef Northeast, and Blue Ginger has held onto its status as one of the top restaurants in the region.
Why Boston? “Our priorities were to find a city that was big enough to support a Chinatown, so we could easily supply the restaurant with the best ingredients, and had a sizable population that was well-traveled because if you’re well-traveled, you’ll appreciate good food and wine. We loved San Francisco, but the economics didn’t work, and it came down to New York or Boston. As a student, I already had a connection to Boston, so we chose Boston.”
Since then he’s collected an Emmy for his Food Network show, East Meets West with Ming Tsai. In 2013, in the hip Fort Point neighborhood, he opened Blue Dragon, which he describes as an Asian gastro pub (“Try the whole fried chicken,” Tsai says). Driving all his efforts is the deep-seated satisfaction his food brings out in people. “People who appreciate great food and wine will do what it takes to find it, and it’s those people who make being a chef the best.”
Favorite Vacation Destination
“My family loves to ski, and I can’t wait to get out to Vail in the winter. What I like about vacation houses is that, as a cook, I have to have a kitchen to cook in—that’s why I don’t do hotels. We love Inspirato homes because they do a great job of stocking it with everything I need to feed my family.”
Must-Have Travel Ingredient
“You have to have garlic. In every cuisine around the world, there’s garlic, and the smell of garlic sautéing in butter or oil makes my mouth water and makes me feel instantly at home. Of course, in my opinion, ginger is the equal of garlic for its savory and sweet flavors.”