During the COVID pandemic, many of the PBS cooking programs took their shows home, literally, and Ming Tsai’s Simply Ming At Home was one show that was a hit, partly because of the addition to his younger son Henry. KLCS re-visits with Ming as we talk about how that decision was made, why Henry wasn’t on all the shows, and his latest project MingsBings, which is now in the space that housed his former Boston restaurant Blue Dragon.
When we started reconnecting with our first chefs for this feature, I was excited to reconnect since so much has changed since we last spoke. The biggest change was you took it home and you have a new cohost! How has viewer reaction been to new format and Henry?
Oh, it’s been a ton of fun. Honestly, I know how blessed I am that both my sons actually like me (laughs) and they’re both actually pretty good cooks. David’s actually a decent cook, Henry’s a better cook and Henry’s a better confident for TV personality. I think the most fun is Henry is not acting either. I’ve never acted on my show, he’s just being him. And he rightfully loves to just make fun of dad, he doesn’t hold back and I think that comes across (laughs). I think I gives it back to him to him just as well. It was out of necessity, honestly, when Covid hit. We had no choice, we’re like “Yeah, the show must go one.” Hats off to the iPhone and the technology that you can actually do a live Facebook and then re-edit for public television. That in itself was quite amazing. And I actually do think that that type of format, guerilla shooting if you would, there’s definitely a place for it, certainly in streaming. Look, honestly is it as professional looking as a studio show? No of course not, but didn’t have second lights and all that. But did it do what the intent was? Which is show father son cooking together and making easy food and him making a dish and me making a dish? Yeah. We were very happy how it came out. We used a GoPro above the hood, we were very guerilla but it was so incredibly well received. Henry got many more comments than I did, which I’m very happy about. And it’s good for him, he’s at USC as a freshman, we just saw him in his first play, he’s an acting major. He is interested in this genre, some type of media, so I’m psyched that he’s going down this path.
Yeah I noticed you wore earbuds during the taping.
That was for good audio for the recording, because if you’re too far from an iPhone, you’re going to have horrible sound, those were our microphones.
How did you guys decide to make Henry as your sous chef, since David was obviously behind the scenes?
He want do it, David would do it but it would be more as a favor, but Henry actually liked doing it so, it was an easy decision. Henry, probably when he was 16, taught himself how to make the perfect carbonara. He researched it, he went online, he looked at all these chefs. That’s a really great skill, right? There’s so many techniques and so many different cuisines that show how to make the best falafel, to make the best crepe. All these amazing techniques you can so learn now on line. It’s incredible. And he always had that interest and funny enough he always wanted to, which I love about him, he always wanted to learn something that I was not good at. I’ve made carbonara, am I a master? Hell no. There’s so many chefs that are better than me at that. Rightfully so, he wanted to learn from the best, so he would not ask me about carbonara because I don’t not have the carbonara chops. You want me to make fried rice? Yeah, I would say I make friend rice, no problem. So I love that about him. He loved shirred eggs. Oh my God, he did shirred eggs for like two years. He saw Gordon Ramsey make it once, then, “Dad, it starts with a cold pan and whole butter.” And actually I did know that. And he would painstakingly for 25 minutes make shirred eggs and serve it on toast; he was so proud of it. Absolutely delicious. An entire stick of butter (laughs). But they were delicious.
How did you guys make the decision to do it this way; how did you figure out you guys were going to do it at home? Was that pretty easy to decide?
It was out of necessity, right? I mean, when Covid first hit there were no studios. The decision was made, “Let’s continue the show, I want to keep shooting.” And I had three other people to choose from, my wife and two sons. (laughs) So it was a very short pool. And again, Henry rose to the occasion, he wanted to do it, David did it a couple times, he’s actually quite good. Some of the best shows were when one was shooting and other one was in front of the camera, because then they would both try to make fun of me. They didn’t succeed every time, by the way. It was really a family thing because we really could not bring anyone into the fold. Again, it was fantastic for Henry and it was great for me; it was great to be able to do that.
We’re still re-airing the episodes on Saturday afternoons on KLCS, which I love. During those first episodes I thought – people could play a drinking game every time you said Henry’s name!
(laughs) Probably, you’d be hammered.
Right! You said it so much!
I think early in my career, and I still say “awesome” quite often. But early in my career, some fans said exactly that, “We just played a drinking game every time you said “awesome” chef, and we got hammered!” Apparently in one show I said it 10 times and they were absolutely hammered. Which I thought was awesome.
It said, “At Home” but I think I saw three homes, so you did move around a lot.
I have a restaurant in Big Sky, and in Boston. Every now and then I would be on the road and I would have to set up shop at someone else’s home because I was on the road. But primarily it was mostly in Montana.
And is that why some episodes had Henry and some didn’t?
Towards the end of the season he had to go to school. So he was at USC and I was solo. That was out of necessity, logistics, I couldn’t go to USC. Plus, he didn’t have a kitchen at USC.
How have you liked filming at home?
Everyone loves it but my wife. I think the next season is going back in studio, when that happens. I have lots of irons in the fire. I have a great new show coming out in June and that’s all I can say. I’m excited about that. And I am working on what to do next. There’re so many other cool formats out there, video streaming is really here to stay. There’re so many great businesses to cook along with me. I’ve done a lot of these classes now that we’ve send food to lots of people and they cook with me, so I’m really looking at all the potential opportunities to maximize. If I wanted to do a cooking show, why shouldn’t people cook with me? There could potentially be another revenue stream, and it’s for everyone if people could cook along. Everyone has always said, “I wish there was smell-a-vision; I wish I could eat that.” Well, now you can. So that next step will be great. It’s a natural step to what I’ve done. I just think there’s such amazing opportunity as long as you can continue to generate content.
When do you start filming the new season?
To be determined. The June thing happens in June and then from there, we’ll see what happens.
Has 2020 changed you and what have you learned anything from it?
It’s changed everyone, a world pandemic. We’ve all had friends that have died, we’ve all had friends that have lost businesses. So that’s been horrific. I have seen some amazing kindness as well; a lot of people stepped up to the plate and did what they had to do. Ed Lee, I got to work the Lee Initiative, he got funding from Makers Mark; he has a great relationship with the family, was like, “Look, you have millions of dollars from your advertising marketing budget which you’re not going to use because every bar and restaurant is closed, give me the money and I’ll open food pantries for restaurant workers that are unemployed.” He partnered with Audi as well. We, Blue Dragon, became a food pantry for three months, we served thousands and thousands of restaurant employees. We ended up having a food truck delivering to East Boston. I know we helped save lives because a lot of my employees, as most restaurants’, they’re under the radar. They were not getting $600 a week; they weren’t getting anything. They’re illegal. Everyone has a dishwasher, a busser and there’s not a golf course that wouldn’t be around if we didn’t have immigrants, there wouldn’t be farms. So, during the pandemic none of them a got unemployment because they’re under the radar and they have four kids to feed and grandparents and five-to-a-bedroom. They’re the forgotten ones, they’re the ones that suffered. You couldn’t go home, you couldn’t travel, you couldn’t do anything. Our industry, you’re living paycheck to paycheck. They’re the only bread winner, so it was really horrific. I didn’t sleep for about two months at the beginning of it. I didn’t know what to do with my team. But then Ed Lee came up with the initiative; we also gave diapers, formula, hand sanitizers. We also gave raw rice and beans so people could actually cook at home. There’s nothing more satisfying and a sense of normalcy than literally making a pot of rice and beans. For us Chinese, I need a pot of rice everyday. For the Latino community, they need rice and beans. It’s a sense of normalcy. It was so “non-normalcy” back then.
What’s a typical day like for you now, post 2020?
I don’t have a typical day. MingsBings is my focus; I launched this company two years ago. I have a restaurant named Baba in Montana. MingsBings is 24/7, we’re in New England grocery stores, we’re in food service, we’re developing new flavors.
What is MingsBings?
A bing is a traditional Asian dim sum product, but these are gluten free plant-based power pockets. Think of a Hot Pocket, except these are delicious and gluten-free and super crispy. They’re already pre-dipped in oil, you put them up in an air fryer, oven or sauté pan and they’re made with GMO-free soybean plant protein. Absolutely delicious. We have eight super veggies is our Original one, with watercress and shiitake; we have a Cheeseburger, a Sausage and Pepper, a Buffalo Cauliflower, all plant-based. The dairy we use is made from coconut fat. They’re awesome, our motto is Eat Good, Feel Good, Do Good. Eat Good – because they’re delicious, because I’m a chef first, it has to be delicious. Feel Good – because plant-based does make you feel better. And if you have a brain and believe in science, you’ll feel better because it’s better for the world and better for the environment. Do Good – because some proceeds benefit Dana Farber, the most awesome cancer research hospital; saved my wife’s life and saved my CEO’s life. And another great charity called Family Reach. We financially help families dealing with cancer. Please go to Mingsbings.com, we deliver nationwide and it will be in a store near you soon.
You still have your Boston restaurant?
No. MingsBings’ world headquarters is now in Blue Dragon’s space. I needed a test kitchen, I needed a place to do lots of MingsBings stuff, so we’re renting it. So Blue Dragon is no longer. I have no restaurants in Boston; I have one restaurant, Baba, out in Big Sky, Montana at a great place called the Yellowstone Club. I go there often, I’m there three to four months a year.
What made you go to Montana from Boston?
Montana. If you’ve never been, go! It’s beautiful. Summers, winters…amazing! I got 25 days of skiing in, amazing. Montana, it’s one of the most beautiful places in the country.
When you don’t feel like cooking, what’s an easy healthy dish to make?
I have no idea; I’ve never not felt like cooking.
What’s an easy healthy dish other people can make?
So simple MingsBings! A quick dish? Everyone has some type of noodle or pasta. Mushrooms, if you have zucchini or a handful of spinach, throw that in too. Doesn’t really matter. I like to sauté and get a sear on the mushrooms, I then add a bunch of sliced garlic to it. Mushrooms first, you want the pan to hit the mushrooms for color, garlic second so it doesn’t burn. And then, I add veggie stock. I deglaze the pan with veggie stock and as the veggie stock starts to reduce I add a little cornstarch slurry, which is a little more healthy than roux. The stock starts to thicken up with mushrooms. It’s literally a 10-minute meal, depending on your knife skills. Again, if you don’t have garlic do onion, if you don’t have onion do shallots, if you don’t have shallots do scallions. Something from the allium group, of course you can add chilis if you like it spicy; a jalapeño, serrano or chili flakes. Of course you can use garlic or onion power, it’s not cheating, it’s just smart. You want to add allium in some way, shape or form. Any pasta works – farfalle, macaroni, Asian pasta, it doesn’t matter. Sauté your veggie. And if you happen to have uncut, crumbled protein, or happen to have real sausage. Any protein you can add to any of these dishes, but cook the protein first by itself. Chicken, ground pork, pieces of whatever it is, sauté that first. It’s very Chinese style. Sauté the protein first, season it up. Set it aside. Do what I just said, add the protein back at the end. You’re done.
Everyone is cooking more. And your kitchen is similar to mine – cabinets close to the stove. How often do you clean your stove top and do you also get grease on the cabinets? Since like you I sauté a lot and it gets grease even on the cabinets around the stove. Any tips on how you clean?
I clean everyday. I’m a chef. You cook on the stove, you clean it. Of course use a non- toxic spray, wipe it down. A clean kitchen is paramount.
You have a really clean kitchen; it looks like it’s well-cleaned.
If you clean it every day it never gets dirty. It’s that simple. And I need to be TV ready. Even if I wasn’t shooting TV, my stove is always clean, I can’t stand a mess.
Is there anything you want to add? Have you been visiting Los Angeles because Henry is at USC?
Oh yeah. Henry was in his first play a USC. Ironically, it was him and four other Asians, an all Asian cast, the first all-Asian play ever at USC, which I thought was amazing because USC is practically 90 percent Asian. It’s not, but it’s a lot of Asians. He crushed it, he was the only freshman. Very proud of him. Besides MingsBings, one the most important things people can do is support the efforts in Ukraine. I just very proudly, did a great dinner for World Central Kitchen, our boy José Andrés, whose the hero of our hero chefs, he was there for four plus weeks literally risking his life serving 300,000 meals. Ken Oringer and I proudly raised a million dollars that all went to World Central kitchen. People if you have five bucks, 20 bucks, go to WCK and support their efforts because all of the money you give to WCK makes a plate of food for people that don’t have a plate of food. Just to boil it down to the most basic, there’s nothing more important in the hospitality industry. Which is why we’re all chefs, its to serve, right? To serve in a restaurant, you get smiles and get paid. But to serve the community, you’re doing it for smiles, you’re doing it to save lives. With out food and water, you cannot have hope. So what José does, his entire amazing crew, is give hope. People always ask how he does it. He’s very smart, every chef in the world is potentially a World Central Kitchen Chef. So when he went to Poland and set up shop, he just asked the chefs, “Hey, I need help guys.” And every chef in any language has the same DNA as we have in our country, “How do we serve?” Or course we’re going to open up our kitchen, of course we’re going to serve people in need. That’s World Central Kitchen. It’s a genius model, he’s there on the ground before FEMA, before anyone. He’s there when Red Cross is arriving, he helps them. It’s amazing. And for those that have the means, a lot of people are suffering right now, a lot of people are unemployed, I get it, but for those that do have means, please support. There’s nothing more important than world hunger. I’ve never lived through a European war in my lifetime, right? It’s not great, it’s not great, and considering it’s completely useless, make it even more not great.
Check out klcs.org to find the broadcast schedule for Simply Ming At Home. Keep-up with everything-Ming, including MingsBings, at his website: ming.com or follow Ming on social media @mingtsai on Instagram & Twitter and @chefmingtsai on TikTok, and on Facebook at: facebook.com/SimplyMingTV