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Chef Ming Tsai in San Antonio, Keeping Things ‘Simply Ming’


Chef Ming Tsai, prepares for a shoot at a CIA kitchen on Wednesday. The host and star of “Simply Ming” cooked with several San Antonio chefs this week.

Public television chef and restaurateur Ming Tsai, known to many for his show, “Simply Ming,” may live in Boston but this week he seemed to make himself right at home in San Antonio.

Ming was in town for several days to produce the WGBH-TV show for his 11th season, which started last week. He also appeared at a reception as part of the KLRN Chef Series.

Wednesday’s shoot at the Culinary Institute of America, San Antonio, was one of four that Ming and crew were doing. Also that day, he visited John Besh at the New Orleans chef’s San Antonio location of Lüke.

“John Besh is a great guy, and he really has embraced San Antonio – and San Antonio has embraced him,” Ming observed. “You’re lucky to have him.”

On Thursday, the crew would visit Johnny Hernandez’ La Gloria on the Pearl  campus, followed by a shoot at Los Barrios with chef and owner Diana Barrios Treviño.

Wednesday, the award-winning chef’s guest for the segment was CIA chef and instructor Elizabeth Johnson. (Ming, of course, was a guest in her kitchen.)

Focus, minding the details, issuing a few directions and, of course, admonishments to the small group gathered to watch, were part of the action. But, the crew moved with good-natured precision under the watchful eye of executive producer Laura Donnelly, and Ming Tsai was as relaxed and personable as his on-screen persona.

Ming Tsai mingles with KRLN fans.

The main attraction (besides Ming, of course) was Johnson, a Latin Cuisines Specialist, who would demonstrate the unique way Peruvians make their famous ceviche. But, the show would start off with cocktails — pisco sours (made with the priciest pisco around — Pisco Mosto Verde).

Introducing Johnson, Ming cracked a joke about her name not seeming to sound traditionally Peruvian and issued a mock threat to onlookers about turning off their cellphones.

“If anyone’s cellphone goes off, I’ll look at you in a really mean way. Even if I am drinking Pisco sours,” he said.

The first part of the Peruvian show (after the icy pisco sours were poured) would focus on the two chefs “shopping” for ingredients, which were arrayed in vibrant colors on one side of the work table.

Johnson pointed out the plantain, yucca, fresh hearts of palm, Peruvian purple potatoes, bowls full of limes, red onions, chiles large and small, a variety of Cape gooseberry, dried bonito, nuts and more. Also, there was cocona, a small acidic fruit that gives this dish its name, Cocona Ceviche.

The camera crew took their places, the audience settled down and Donnelly was focused on the small screen in front of her.

“Ready, ready … action,” she said, and the show was on.

The ceviche demonstration began with Johnson introducing the amazing variety of ingredients, many of which we’d call “exotic.”  Johnson picked up a cob of corn – but unlike any corn most of us had ever seen. The kernels were big, knobby and misshapen (at least compared to the corn we know). “It’s all starch, not sugar,” Johnson said.

One of the main differences between ceviche as we know it and the Peruvian dish is how the ultra-fresh, raw fish is treated. Instead of an acid bath of lime juice to cure the fish, salt is used for the same purpose. Lots of salt.

Johnson asked Ming to salt the fish — “until you think it’s over-salted.” After he did so, turning the fish (bonito) around and around in a large ice bath, she told him to add even more.

“You’re not cooking with acid, you’re curing with salt,” said Johnson. This, as both chefs noted, would bring the fresh-fish taste, especially the umami sensation, to the fore.

It’s not that acid isn’t important for this style of ceviche — it is, to the point that Johnson crafted not one, but two levels of acidity for the flavorful “broth” that the ceviche swims in called leche de tigre, or tiger’s milk.

Starch is added in the form of plantain, potato, the big corn kernels. A bit of habanero added heat to the profile, celery its perfume, dried bonito offered a smoky accent and a touch of dried kelp, from an inland lake, layered in another earthy element.

CIA San Antonio chef-instructor Elizabeth Johnson prepares some of the ingredients for Peruvian-style ceviche.

Lime juice was, of course, an important part of the liquid portion of the dish, along with another acidic ingredient, aguaymanto, a type of Cape gooseberry. This liquid is delicious in itself, and is consumed — either with a spoon or drinking from the bowl — after the main ingredients are gone.

When the ceviche was completed, Ming tasted it and declared it the best he’d had.

Ming then took over, and with Johnson’s help, made a breaded, nut-crusted fish on a colorful bed of purple potato hash, with fresh hearts of palm salad and a light vinaigrette. Johnson returned the compliments for his “perfectly moist” fish.

Yes, the audience and cooking assistants all had a taste of everything afterward — and yes, it was simply delicious. We got to sample the exotic nuts, berries and starches, and agreed with Ming that the ceviche made with salt-cured fish was worth every bit of the effort.

The shoot was done in three or four efficient segments and took three to  four hours. In the end, Ming thanked Johnson, gave the audience a friendly wave and said his benediction — “To all of you out there, peace and good eating.”

 

 Photographs by Bonnie Walker

A recipe for the Peruvian Ceviche will be provided as soon as SavorSA gets it. The shows done in San Antonio will probably air in the first few months of 2013.

 

Camera focuses on set — a work table in a CIA San Antonio Test kitchen Wednesday, where a segment of “Simply Ming” was happening.

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WalkerSpeak: Could Lidia Bastianich Be the New Julia?


Lydia4

As I watched Lidia Bastianich masterfully present a series of dishes here Sunday night,  lecturing and entertaining all the while, I reflected upon her stature as national treasure.

The late Julia Child was, of course, our national treasure. Though her spirit lives on, she is gone, and it could be we feel we need another master chef to take her place. Someone to lead us gently but firmly through the basics of a venerable cuisine, instructing us to master what is difficult and instilling in us respect for the simple.  We need someone who imparts not only lessons in preparing food well, but in eating with joy and thoughtfulness.

I believe Lidia is such a one. We don’t see her flouncing around on the Food Network, brandishing her knife in those silly commercials or showing us how difficult she can be to work with in a kitchen.  As did Julia, she does what she does with steadiness and grace, without gimmickry, but in singular style.  If she is motherly, that is because she raised a family. If she can be stern and exacting, doesn’t that fit with our fond stereotype of the Italian matriarch gathering her extended family around her table?

Of course it does. During her presentation on Sunday, as she prepared fresh broccoli raab for a pasta dish with Italian sausage, she looked up from her work to tell the audience to pipe down.

“OK,”  she said, in a matter-of-fact tone. “You are talking. And you and I can’t talk at the same time.”  Those who were listening laughed. Those who were talking stopped.

This is what we need. I won’t tout Lidia as the next president of the United States. But when a wise and knowledgeable person talks, on whatever the subject, wouldn’t it be good if we could all be quiet and listen; that rude people might pay attention instead of interrupting?

Bastianich was asked, during the question and answer session, about her relationship with Child. It was a friendship as well as a professional collaboration. “Julia always was very curious about Italian food,” Bastianich said.  But the two personalities met on another level as well.  They recognized that, in addition to providing nourishment, one of the messages that comes from food is “the social element, the sharing of ideas, sharing a meal,” said Bastianich.

Sharing a meal? How much do we do that anymore? Some have said that the recession might be bringing families together around the dinner table. I don’t have any figures to back this up, but I’d like to think that it was true. And if it is true, who better to guide us back with some very, very good food reasonably easy to prepare at home than Bastianich?

Child presented Americans with culinary lessons that would raise our level of  sophistication, make us aware of what a classic cuisine was all about and how introduce its lessons into our lifestyle. I might not make boeuf  à la bourguignonne once a month, but I can tell you that when I want to brown cubes of beef, I pat them dry before introducing them to the properly heated oil in the pan. When I use wine in a recipe I don’t use wine I wouldn’t drink, and I have no fear of butter.

I like the idea of Bastianich as our new, most respected chef. But  she will never be the “new” Julia, nor would we want her to be.  She would remain completely what she is and has always been —a wonderful personality, expert cook and teacher.

The following are links to recipes for the dishes Bastianich presented at the KLRN Chef Series Sunday, Nov. 1, at the St. Anthony Hotel in San Antonio.  The Italian-American chef’s  Public Television series, “Lidia’s Italy”, airs locally on KLRN, several days during the week. Her book is “Cooking From The Heart of Italy,” which she wrote with her daughter, Tanya Bastianich Manuali (Knopf, $35).

Lydia1 (1)

Celery Root and Apple Salad

Lydia2 (1)

Dittalini with Broccoli Raab

Lydia3

Fillet of Grouper Matalotta Style

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