Friday, November 23, 2012

Thanksgiving: Chef Ming Tsai Visits White House

The celeb dishes on meeting President Obama and pardoned turkey Cobbler...
Acclaimed chef Ming Tsai was the only celebrity in the Rose Garden audience of invited guests on Wednesday as President Obama pardoned National Thanksgiving Turkey Cobbler in a rollicking ceremony.  The James Beard Award winner, a popular food TV personality and cookbook author,  had a front-row seat as the President peppered his remarks with election-themed jokes.  (Above: Tsai with Cobbler)

"It was neat to see President Obama in such a wonderful mood, because I can imagine that if the election had gone the other way, he would have been like, 'Okay, goodbye turkey,'" Tsai told Obama Foodorama.


"I thought it was quite ironic that they invited a chef to the turkey pardon," Tsai added, laughing. "But it worked out."  He shook hands and chatted with the President after the ceremony (above).

The chef, who owns the acclaimed Blue Ginger restaurant in Wellesley, MA, did no "official" cooking during his visit to the White House.

Tsai said he was invited to the ceremony by Chris Lu, Co-Chair of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and White House Cabinet Secretary.  They had lunch in the Navy Mess ahead of the ceremony, and Tsai gave the salmon a rave:  It was "quite delicious," he said.

"Hanging out with @chefmingtsai at WH turkey pardoning. Don't worry - the turkeys are safe. Ming is just a guest!" Lu tweeted on his @ChrisLu44 account with the photo at left.

Tsai is a supporter of First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! campaign, and was one of the celebrity chefs invited to compete last year in the Great American Family Cooking Challenge, emceed by Senior Policy Advisor for Healthy Food Initiatives Sam Kass.  The two are both members of the inaugural American Chef Corps, the State Department's Culinary Diplomacy Partnership.  Tsai cooked a star-studded State Department luncheon earlier this year for China's Vice President Xi Jinping, who is now the President.

The chef's own Thanksgiving plans included community service and dinner with his family.  Tsai said that on Thursday morning he was going to deliver eight brined turkeys to Women's Lunch Place, a homeless shelter he supports in Boston "that does awesome work."

For his family dinner, Ming said he planned to cook with his kids, and use a turkey technique from acclaimed chef Jacques Pépin that was spotlighted in a feature last week in The New York Times.  Pépin, who cooked with Mrs. Obama at the 2011 White House Easter Egg Roll, advised steaming the turkey, and Tsai was excited that Pépin credited his affection for the technique to one of his own culinary heroes, chef Virginia Lee, an expert on Chinese cooking.

"I've always steamed chicken," Ming said. "But never made the connection to do it with turkey.  I'm excited to do something new."

The President and First Family had a pretty exciting Thanksgiving, too.

*Top photo by Chris Lu; second by Eddie Gehman Kohan/Obama Foodorama; third by Chris Lu