Celebrity Chef and Restaurateur Ming Tsai ’82 Judges Andover’s First Iron Chef

As an undergraduate at Yale University, Ming Tsai ’82, P ’18 made the life-changing decision to pursue a career as a chef by writing “I don’t care” on his mechanical engineering final exam.

“This was my epiphany – everyone was punching away at their calculators and I wrote ‘I don’t care’ [on my exam sheet], because all I cared about was food,” said Tsai, a celebrity chef, restaurateur and television personality, during a presentation he gave on Saturday night in Kemper Auditorium.

In an interview with The Phillipian, Tsai said, “I [started cooking] when I was ten years old. I made my first fried rice, and I made people happy through food and thought, ‘Wow, this is cool.’ My first [inspirations] were my parents and grandparents: they cooked all the time, and I was blessed to always be around great-tasting food.”

Upon his graduation from Yale, he proceeded to cook under various famous mentors, including sushi master Takashi Kobayashi and pastry chef Pierre Hermé. Tsai learned more cooking skills during summer sessions at Le Cordon Bleu, a renowned culinary school in France. He eventually also earned a master’s degree in hotel management from Cornell University.

Hoping to combine Eastern and Western cuisine styles into unique Asian-fusion dishes, Tsai opened his first restaurant, Blue Ginger, in Wellesley, Mass., in 1998.

Tsai emphasized the importance of preserving the traditional flavor of foods while blending in new tastes when creating fusion food.

“People make these vinaigrettes [with such bold flavors] and say ‘Ah! It’s fusion!’… That’s not fusion, that’s confusion, because they never learned the traditional use,” said Tsai in a Q&A after his presentation.

Blue Ginger received “Boston Magazine”’s 2008 Best of Boston Award. Tsai also owns Blue Dragon, another critically-acclaimed restaurant in Boston.

Tsai has appeared on various cooking television shows, including “East Meets West,” “Iron Chef America,” “Zoom” and his own show, “Simply Ming,” and has authored four cookbooks.

Kailash Sundaram ’15, who attended the presentation, said, “I’m very interested in [Tsai’s] story and what he has to offer and understanding the wide aspects of Asian culture. I think too often people mistake Asia as one single region, and this competition allowed us to see the different styles of Asian cooking that [show] that Asia is not one continent, but a wide variety of cultures.”

After Tsai’s presentation, 12 student teams competed in Andover’s first-ever “Iron Chef” competition. Each pair was given a budget of $30 to create the best dish.

The competition was judged by Tsai, Head of School John Palfrey and audience member Wei Han Lim ’15.

At the end of the competition, the “Flaming Pterodactyls,” which included AJ Augustin ’15 and Hanover Vale ’15, were crowned as champions. The pair won a set of ceramic bladed knives.

“We made ramen arepas topped with an avocado creme and pulled, slow-roasted, chipotle, five-spice chicken thighs in a sweet mango tamarind glaze and finished with a red cabbage, green mango and apple slaw,” wrote Augustin in an email to The Phillipian. “The best part was either making the food or winning and getting such high praise. It meant a lot that everyone enjoyed our food.”

Students were required to incorporate two ingredients, ramen noodles and chicken, into their dishes. Recipes came from around the world, with dishes ranging from a “Ramen Burger” to a ramen pizza with edamame and chicken.

Sydney Alepa ’15, who made the “Ramen Burger” with her partner, Eden Livingston ’15, said, “It was really exhilarating to be part of the competition. We wanted to do something that wasn’t traditional, so we thought it would be creative to do a fusion of American and Asian foods.”