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Ming Tsai ‘In Your Kitchen’

Ming Tsai at WBUR. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Ming Tsai at WBUR. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

How many times have you opened your favorite cookbook, flailed around trying a new technique, and just wished the original chef could be there to walk you through it?

Ming Tsai’s new cookbook, ”Simply Ming in Your Kitchen,” offers you just that.

“They always say a picture is worth a thousand words. Well, a video is worth a million words,” Tsai said. “You can’t write in words how you roll sushi. You can’t articulate it perfectly. It’s impossible. But a video — it’s easy.”

Where Spatula Meets Smartphone

Tsai, chef and owner of Blue Ginger in Wellesley and the upcoming Blue Dragon in Boston’s Seaport District, incorporates smartphone technology — specifically, QR codes — in his new cookbook so that he effectively pops up in your kitchen.

Once a reader scans the QR code with their phone, it redirects them to a cooking video on Tsai’s website. Other videos are available for purchase.

“We’re hoping we’re creating a second revenue stream for everyone that writes cookbooks,” he explained.

How To Avoid A Mess In The Kitchen

A recipe may make sense on the page initially, but sometimes part way through, the actual execution of it can get confusing.

“You should read the whole recipe before you start cooking,” Tsai offered as advice. “Ditto the video. Sit down for eight to 10 minutes, watch the video. Then you’ll see all the steps.”

And what if splattering oil or flour dust or water droplets get near your smartphone while you’re watching the video on your smartphone or laptop?

“You can put it  far enough away,” he said. “A lot of these recipes you can cook real time with me. And, ideally, don’t touch the computer with your dirty hands!”

The Importance Of Eating Together

Many recipes in Tsai’s cookbook are served in the pan or wok in which it was cooked.

“That’s family style eating — it’s the best way to eat because then people can grab what they want and it’ll stay warm right at the table.” Tsai said. He stressed that families eating together is something that the country needs more of.

Online Recipes: Blessing Or Curse?

Tsai said that the wealth of recipes available online is both good and bad.

“If you Google ‘spicy chicken,’ you’re going to get 15,000 spicy chicken recipes. But unfortunately only 1 percent are good. And that’s the hard part: There’s no filter…which is why there’s still a market for cookbooks,” he noted. “All of us test our recipes — that’s why we’re chefs. The addition of video and convenience of QR code just makes it that much easier to hopefully get people to learn techniques and to cook.”

Asian Cuisine: No Longer ‘Dumbed Down’

Tsai acknolwedged that much of what we know as Asian cuisine — whether it’s Japanese, Thai, Chinese — is still under the umbrella of American food, just as pizza is no longer considered ethnic food.

“The good thing that’s going on in this country is we’re getting authentic chefs,” Tsai said optimistically. “So not just a Chinese chef. We’re getting a Schizuan chef, a chef from Guangzhou, a chef from Hunan, and they’re doing the real food that is done in China and bringing it here. We’re no longer dumbing down.

“The creation of chop suey 30 years ago — that person really should not be allowed on this planet, right?” he joked. “But that was done because the food was dumbed down thinking this is what the Americans want. But guess what? The Americans — us Americans — want more now. We’re traveled. We see the cooking shows. We see what real lemongrass or real Thai chiles look like and taste like. And now they’re demanding to have that authentic flavor.”

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  • Rosa Rasiel

    I admire Ming Tsai as chef, retaurateur, teacher and cookbook author, but must question some points of his comments on Chinese cooking in America. As he surely knows, Chinese food first came here with the Chinese men who built America’s railroads, starting in the 1860′s. Chow mein and chop suey were already staples of Chinese restaurants nationwide well before World War II; they  were not created “thirty years ago.” I remember  on December 7, 1941, driving away from a Baltimore establishment where my parents liked eating sub gum chow mein, when the news of Pearl Harbor came  over the car radio—71 years ago. When I  came to Boston for college in 1952, I heard of something called Chicago chow mein, though I don’t remember ever eating it. By 1958, Joyce Chen had opened her first very successful restaurant serving Mandarin/Szechuan and home style cooking. In 1962, she published her first cookbook, and by 1968 had a cooking show on PBS. As entrepreneurs developed business relations in China, after it opened in 1972, they learned about authentic Chinese food, and by “thirty years ago” could find it here in Boston’s Chinatown restaurants. If  memory serves, Robert Nadeau, of the Phoenix,  wrote about them in his 1978 Guide to Boston Restaurants.
     
    With best wishes to Chef Ming for the success of Blue Dragon, and the new cookbook,
    Rosa Rasiel
    Marblehead

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