Tsai - an accomplished chef/owner, James Beard Award winner, seven-time cookbook author, and Emmy-winning TV host - swung by Toast HQ to appear on our podcast, The Garnish, which you can listen to here.
His words of advice could change your entire point of view on how to be successful in the restaurant industry.
Who is Ming Tsai?
"I am who I am because of restaurants, not just because of food." - Ming Tsai
If you watch cooking shows, you probably recognize Ming for his hosting gigs on programs like Simply Ming or as a contestant on The Next Iron Chef. If you've been to New England or the Greater Boston Area, you've likely heard of award-winning restaurants Blue Dragon or Blue Ginger - both helmed by Tsai.
(And in 2000, he was named one of the Most Beautiful People by People Magazine.)
When he's not writing, hosting, cooking, or running a business, Ming is a husband and father of two sons, an advocate for food allergy awareness, and a philanthropist who helps raise money for families affected by cancer. He made waves over the summer for his faux food truck PSA, Khil Me, aimed to shine a light on the dangers of food allergies. Watch the video by E.A.T. (End Allergies Together) below:
I could write many posts highlighting all of Ming Tsai's accomplishments, but let's cover the most important lessons that restaurant owners and managers can learn from the conversation that Toast PR manager Karen DeVincent and I had with Ming.
Read on to see what those are, or just hop over to The Garnish homepage or listen below to hear our chat with him.
1. Food is an Art Form
When we asked Ming about his passion for cooking, he explained that the love has been there since working in his family's restaurant and helping with their catering work while growing up.
On cooking, Ming said, "I don't know of another art form that actually is sight, sound, touch, [smell], and taste."
"Music I love...but [it's] mostly sound. Art is beautiful, but you're basically looking at it. Food is the only art form that has every sense."
In our talk, Ming spoke passionately about his decades-long love affair with the kitchen. When he was on the path to follow in his father's footsteps and become an engineer, Ming decided to further explore his love of food and become a chef.
"I sat my mom and dad down, and said, 'Guys, look - I don't want to be an engineer. I want to be a chef.' My mom hugs me, [and] I look at my dad, and he looks at me point blank, and goes, 'Son, you weren't going to be a very good engineer anyway. Go cook.'"
Since then, Ming has been blending French and Chinese cuisine and cooking styles in two of the nation's most-renowned restaurants.
"The coolest, proudest thing I could ever do is make food for other people," he said.
2. Every Lesson Has a Purpose
Ming still finished up his engineering undergrad at Yale and went on to study hospitality marketing at Cornell post-grad.
"I was already a chef, but the hospitality and marketing was an area I didn't know about. I really wanted to broaden my scope. I got the cooking part down, I was pretty good at business already because of my mom's restaurant, but marketing... it mattered. And thank God I did that, because that kind of rounded out everything."
Coupled with his world-class chef skills, Ming is one of the most recognized chefs in America.
And little did Ming know, his engineering degree is now relevant thanks to his work on the Home Shopping Network.
"Funny enough, it's come completely full circle now. Because of my deal at HSN, I'm now designing kitchen equipment. PV = nRT, [and] thermodynamics matters in how you design a pressure cooker. Induction technology, magnetics - that matters. So the engineering degree is actually now paying off."
3. Stay Seasonal
A balanced menu selection and local seasonality play a huge role in Ming's menu engineering process.
"If we're creating a new dish, seasonality is key," he said. "The season determines, quite often, protein. Of course, vegetables are determined by the season. Personally, I think it's moronic to be serving a sliced tomato salad in December, because tomatoes aren't grown in December."
On the topic of choosing which menu items to incorporate, Ming dives deeply into his philosophy on how to appeal to any customer while still keeping the menu fresh. Listen to the podcast to hear his tips!
4. You Make People Happy Through Food
One quote from Ming that really encapsulates the entire interview is: "You can make people happy through food. Good service, good food, at a reasonable price…not only do you have a loyal customer, you can actually make people happy."
Ming has spent decades following his passion, raising money and awareness for life-threatening illnesses, and building a brand and business empire - all because he is driven to make people happy with the food he creates.
What's Next For Ming?
You could hear the collective cries across New England when Tsai announced he was closing Blue Ginger, though they didn't last long. Aside from continuing to operate Boston's Blue Dragon, Tsai is focusing his efforts on a new fast casual concept called ChowStirs.
This restaurant will serve more of the food that has elevated Ming to the status of celebrity chef. It is being carefully planned from a business perspective and will directly benefit Family Reach to offer financial assistance to families affected by cancer.
ChowStirs is a culmination of all the projects Ming dedicated his life and career to, and we can't wait to see how it turns out.
Want to hear the rest of our interview with Ming Tsai?
Click below to hear the full talk with Ming Tsai on The Garnish podcast, and let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
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