Chef Ming Tsai ’82 Performs Cooking Demo for Campus

Filling the halls of the Underwood Room with his signature “East Meets West” aromas, acclaimed chef and television host Ming Tsai ’82 visited campus this past Saturday as the beginning of Phillips Academy’s annual celebration of Asian Arts Week. Sponsored by the Asian Society in conjunction with Andover’s Office of Community and Multicultural Development (CAMD), Mr. Tsai’s visit included a live cooking demonstration, a discussion of various cooking techniques, and an opportunity to receive personally autographed copies of the chef’s award-winning cookbook, Blue Ginger: East Meets West Cooking with Ming Tsai. Advisor to Asian and Asian-American Students Aya Murata began the event by thanking Mr. Tsai and outlining the schedule for the day’s presentation. Her brief announcements preceded an official introduction by Asian Society President James Chou ’03, who offered his thoughts on Mr. Tsai’s remarkable achievements, as well as a description of the process the Asian Society went through to secure the celebrated chef’s visit to Academy Hill. With formalities over, Mr. Tsai assumed the stage with the experienced sous-chef from his nationally recognized Boston-area restaurant, Blue Ginger. For the next hour, Andover students, parents, and faculty witnessed an informative and enthusiastic cooking demonstration by Mr. Tsai, who proclaimed, “It is really just great to be back [at Andover]!” Mr. Tsai began by acquainting the audience with the recipe he would be preparing: a piquant dish of chicken and noodles featuring the unique flavor of tea leaves. As he deftly sliced heaps of Chinese cabbage, onions, and peppers with specially designed ceramic knives, Mr. Tsai engaged in a lively discussion with the audience, fielding questions about cooking technique and recalling his experiences at Andover in the “big, bad Fuess North.” From illegal excursions off-campus to amusing experiences in particular classes, Mr. Tsai left no topic untouched over the course of the event. Joining Mr. Tsai in the Underwood Room were several faculty and friends from his days at Andover more than 20 years ago. Among them were former classmate and Instructor in English Paul Tortorella ’82, Instructor in English Meredith Price, and Karen Sturges, wife of current Instructor in French Hale Sturges. Following the cooking demonstration, Mr. Tsai fielded a few more questions regarding his preparation techniques before thanking the audience for their presence. Students and faculty who had reserved a copy of the acclaimed chef’s cookbook then proceeded to the front of the room to receive their autographed copies, each inscribed with a personal message to the reader. Planning for Mr. Tsai’s visit began in the fall of 2001, when former Asian Society President Eric Liu ’02 suggested that the Society hold its annual Senior dinner at Blue Ginger. Although price constraints and the inability to get a reservation prevented the Senior dinner from taking place at the celebrated restaurant, Ms. Murata and Liu were able to persuade Mr. Tsai to consider paying a visit to the Academy. Last fall, Ms. Murata and Chou were finally able to secure Mr. Tsai for the weekend’s program. For over five years, Ming Tsai has been at the forefront of the culinary world with the unique dishes and recipes he has made popular through his restaurants, television programs, and cookbooks. Drawn to cooking early on as an assistant at his parents’ Oriental restaurant in Dayton, Ohio, Mr. Tsai’s interest in food continued throughout his four years at Andover. During his sophomore year at Yale University, he studied at the world-renowned Le Cordon Bleu culinary school in Paris before returning to the United States to claim his college degree in Mechanical Engineering. Upon his graduation from Yale, Mr. Tsai decided to become a chef, studying under the famous pastry maker Pierre Herme in Paris and with Sushi Master Kobayashi in Osaka. After enrolling at Cornell University’s Graduate School of Hotel Administration and Hospitality Marketing, he went on to work in restaurants in Chicago, California, and Santa Fe before finally settling down in the Boston area with his wife, Polly. In the spring of 1998, Mr. Tsai and his wife opened the doors of their Wellesley, Massachusetts, restaurant, which has since received an honor as one of the top restaurants in the country, as rated by Boston magazine and The Zagat Restaurant Guide. The host of “East Meets West: Cooking with Ming Tsai,” and “Ming’s Quest” on the Television Food Network, Mr. Tsai has won an Emmy Award for his outstanding accomplishments on air. He has also been praised as “Chef of the Year” by Esquire magazine, and “Best Chef Northeast” by the prestigious James Beard Foundation, which recognizes “the father of American gastronomy” at his former home in New York City.