Normally, turning your back on a degree in mechanical engineering from Yale is not a good career move. But Ming Tsai's decision to pursue a cooking career has paid off. In 1998 he opened Blue Ginger in Boston and it appeared on everyone's list of best new restaurants. That same year, he was named Chef of the Year by Esquire. In 2002, the James Beard Foundation declared him the best chef in the Northeast. Since then, he has become a one-man empire, signing a deal with Target for a line of Blue Ginger cookware, Asian-inspired ingredients and snack foods. He is also the host of public television's cooking show—Simply Ming—and was host this year of a reality cooking show, Cooking Under Fire. He's also had cooking shows on the Food Network, and is the author of three cookbooks.
You should think about firing your decorator.
This is not my place, it's a squash court in Boston called Squash Busters.
I love the sport and I sit on the board of a nonprofit group that gets underprivileged kids off the street. We teach them to play squash. They learn about competition, leadership, life.
That's great. Are you game?
I was an All-American at Yale and I was nationally ranked in France, where I attended Le Cordon Bleu in Paris.
Well, the French were just learning the game at the time. But I did travel all over the country playing and eating. I would win a prize check here and there, which paid for my culinary excursions.
So, your refrigerator appears to be filled with . . .
You guessed it, squash. I love cooking squash.
Got a favorite recipe?
I make a squash risotto, without rice, that I really like.
That Veuve Clicquot there is a good match.
That works, but I'm a water freak. I drink two gallons a day.
How lubricating. Got a favorite brand?
I love O water. It's the purest, cleanest water in the world. We even match waters with food at Blue Ginger.
You are a water freak! So, what's home like?
I live with my wife, Polly, and our two kids, David, 5, and Henry, 3.
How did you fare during the terrible twos?
The twos were fine. It's the threes that are testing me.
Hang tough. Who cooks?
Both of us. Polly is a good cook.
You did well.
It took 10 years to win her heart.
You ordered too much water and too little Champagne.
So, any big squash tournaments coming up?
In May there will be a six-team tournament featuring some of the best players in the world and amateurs. I'm a captain.
I'll need it, but the plan is to raise $20,000 for the kids.
Any regrets ditching the engineering degree?
No. My father, who is a great engineer, told me I probably wouldn't have been a good engineer, anyway.
No squash risotto for him.