If you’ve ever watched food television, you’ve probably seen Ming Tsai, the strikingly tall, charming, and talented chef known for being a pioneer and innovator of East-West cuisine. A James Beard award winner for Best Chef Northeast in 2002, he is chef/owner of the highly regarded Blue Ginger in Wellesley, Mass. and the recently opened Blue Dragon in Boston. He was one of the first Food Network personalities and currently hosts the Emmy Award-nominated public television show Simply Ming. Did I mention he also has really great hair?
No stranger to the Hawaiian Islands, Ming will be returning to Oahu this year for the third annual Hawaii Food & Wine Festival, one of the state’s premier epicurean events and a who’s who of renowned chefs, culinary personalities, farmers, and wine and spirits makers.
I caught up with Ming to talk story:
How long have you been coming to Hawaii?
I have been coming to Hawaii since I was zero or one years old, so a long time. My family used to always go to Taiwan when I was as a kid, so we’d stop in Hawaii for one or two days, or sometimes a week. When I became an adult, I decided to try and come at least once a year, but usually twice a year is my goal.
For people who have never traveled to Hawaii before, what would you tell them? Any travel tips?
I’d share what I’d say for any beginner traveler. If you go to Europe, don’t try to go to seven countries in 12 days. That’s stupid. In seven days, go to one country. Just try to stay for awhile and soak in the atmosphere. Same for Hawaii. Don’t do too much island hopping. If you can’t do a minimum of three days on one Hawaiian Island, don’t go, and stay longer on one island instead.
Speaking of which, do you have a favorite Hawaiian Island?
Hawaii, the Big Island. Kona specifically, I love. Four Seasons Hualalai is one of the finest resorts I’ve ever been to. Just the way they treat the children there, I love it. They have great restaurants too.
Kauai is probably even more beautiful. I mean, Hawaii is the kind of place that everywhere you go seems more beautiful than the next.
Even Waikiki and Oahu. Although it seems like it’s gotten busier over the years, once you see Diamond Head and you see the sunset, it’s the most gorgeous thing in the world.
It isn’t too far to travel?
Oh god, no. Every time I land in an airport in Hawaii, I think to myself, Why am I not living here? And every time I leave Hawaii, I think, Why aren’t I moving here?
The natural beauty I just love. The food and chefs are amazing. The aloha spirit and the people are unlike anything else in the world.
The Caribbean is awesome. I have been all over the Caribbean, but Hawaii, which is in the US, almost feels like another country and has a different spirit. The people want to show you their culture. There’s such a welcoming hospitality of I want to show your our islands, our fish, our poi, our everything. It’s unparalleled. It’s absolutely worth the trip.
Do you have any “go-to” spots in the islands, food wise?
Every time I am in Waikiki or Honolulu, I go to Side Street Inn.
New or old one?
Oh, I didn’t even know there was a new one. So the old one! I always order the pork chops. And the stir fry veg and bok choy is awesome.
I know you get invited to a lot of events. What are you looking forward to most at the Hawaii Food & Wine Festival?
I do go to a lot of chef events, and this is one of the best ones. The best thing is hanging out with people that are into food and wine. To see the smiles and to see people’s joy is one of the reasons I love doing this. Secondly, to be honest, is to see my chef friends. We very seldom get to hang out with each other in our home towns and the fact that we’re all off at night after the events is fantastic.
Awesome. Mahalo, Ming!
-by Rebecca Pang for So Much More Hawaii
Photo credit: Hawaii Food & Wine Festival