COURTESY TONY NOVAK-CLIFFORD PHOTOGRAPHY
Celebrity chef Ming Tsai prefers to give live demonstrations as he did this weekend at the Kapalua Wine and Food Festival, rather than face sterile studio cameras in a taped show.
Ming Tsai and Maui are a perfect pairing
ONE of the highlights of the 2006 Kapalua Wine and Food Festival was the attendance of one Ming Tsai -- the affable chef and television star, host of "Simply Ming" on PBS and author of "Ming's Master Recipes."
Raised in Dayton, Ohio, Tsai grew up cooking alongside his parents at the family's Chinese restaurant before graduating with a degree in mechanical engineering from Yale University. After graduation, he traveled the world and worked in various kitchens, eventually opening his own restaurant, Blue Ginger, in 1998.
The Star-Bulletin spoke with Tsai just a few hours before he led a sold-out cooking demonstration at the Ritz Carlton Kapalua, where he was still riding high after playing on the winning team in the festival's annual golf tournament the day before.
Question: You're a return visitor to the Kapalua Wine and Food Festival. How many times have you participated, and why come back?
Answer: This is my second one. I was out here three years ago. (Friday's "Grand Tasting") party really epitomized this festival. You're on the beach, it's just the most perfect temperature, you're sitting there with 100 different wines, all top wines, some fantastic food, and you're in Maui. Everyone is happy to be in Maui, not only the people that come here, but the people that work here. And I'm a huge golfer.
Q: What's the difference between doing your television show and hosting a cooking demonstration?
A: On my show, I'm talking to four cameras. Here, it's much more fun because I'm talking to 200 people. In theory, they will laugh and they will enjoy themselves. I can't tell if a camera is having a good time. My goal always in every demo, and when I do my show, is to inspire people to cook. My recipes are not gospel. My recipes are a foundation.
Q: Having you participate in Kapalua seems like a natural fit, given your affinity on TV for pairing dishes with different wines.
A: I've always done food and wine. I think a lot of people are scared about wines they can't pronounce. They don't know what an Italian wine tastes like versus an Australian or New Zealand wine. And there are chemical reasons why certain wines go with certain foods.
The goal of matching food and wine is that the two combined create a flavor that is better than the two served separately.
Q: But at the same time, you want people to explore on their own if they're feeling adventurous?
A: Absolutely. I want people to add their own culture, their own taste. The idea with the master recipes I create is that they're just a starting block. If you learn how to make my shrimp mousse, you could then make a fish mousse, a scallop mousse. Same technique, just changing it up.
Q: You produce your own TV show, market your own line of cooking products, write cookbooks and fly around the world to do cooking demonstrations. Do you have a favorite?
A: If I had my pick, I'd be on the golf course right now, my friend. Not speaking into a little Olympus recorder -- made in China, of course.
I'm a very energetic guy, and I do bore easily. I do only have one restaurant, however, unlike most of my chef friends and their empires. That's done for quality of life. I have two beautiful boys and a wife, and I want to see them grow up. Coming to demos like this is a fantastic way to give them an education. I'll never say never, but there are no plans for a second restaurant.
Q: Tell me about your deal with Target.
A: I've been with Target for three years. We're going to bring East-West cuisine easily into peoples' homes. Frozen stir-fry kits, noodle bowls, rice bowls, dim sum, shelf-stable rices and noodles, crackers, salsas, marinades, glazes, vinaigrettes.
This is a way, for $2.95 or 99 cents, to cook a little bit; you get the action and the smell of cooking, it's still home-cooked, but you can do it in seven minutes.
All good food takes good preparation, but if you can take that prep away and still give them great flavor, it's a win-win.