Ming Tsai, award-winning chef and host of PBS’s SIMPLY MING, recently traveled to Norway to visit some of the hottest chefs and culinary destinations along the country’s spectacular coastline. From foraging for ingredients to visiting local salmon farms, Chef Tsai was able to capture Norway’s rich heritage to share with his viewers during season 14 of SIMPLY MING.
No stranger to television, Chef Ming Tsai began cooking for TV audiences back in 1998 as the Emmy Award–winning host of Food Network’s East Meets West with Ming Tsai. That same year, he opened Blue Ginger in Wellesley, Mass., and immediately impressed diners from Boston and beyond with the restaurant's innovative East-West cuisine. The restaurant quickly earned praise from local press and was nominated by the James Beard Foundation as "Best New Restaurant 1998." In early 2013, Ming opened his second restaurant, Blue Dragon—an Asian gastropub located in the Four Point Channel area of Boston. Like its sister restaurant, Blue Dragon was quickly celebrated for its East-West cuisine.
The Norwegian Seafood Council recently met up with Chef Tsai to learn about his experience in Norway and what stood out for him.
While in Norway, you were able to see a lot in a week’s time. What did you like most about your visit?
I loved the people—they were incredibly friendly, hospitable and welcoming, and felt like family. It also seems obvious to say, but the seafood we had there was some of the most pristine seafood I’ve ever had in my life.
Yes—seafood is a way of life in Norway. Was there anything you were surprised to learn about the seafood culture?
One of the most surprising things was how much goes into the farming of the salmon. One of the highlights from the trip was our visit to the salmon farm. The command center they have there is beyond incredible. They had 10 different screens, temperatures of the water throughout each of the 10 pens, live video of the fish and other unique technology. It’s unbelievable how high-tech this command center was. I was honestly surprised about the technology and all the detail that goes into making sure the fish are grown properly.
Did your visit to the salmon farms change your perspective on farmed fish? Do you think if more people had that experience, they would be more receptive to it?
Once you experience the salmon farm, I think you get a much better understanding of how they are raised and you instantly become a fan. Being able to see the technology was incredible and when used to the high degree it was, it’s no wonder the product is as delicious, clean and pristine as it is. When Jacques Pépin was recently a guest on SIMPLY MING, he was able to try the dish I made using the Norwegian king crab legs. He declared it was one of the best dishes he had ever had. I think it goes to show that the seafood really speaks for itself.
Wow! That is quite the compliment! Do you think the seafood would be perceived the same way at your restaurant, knowing consumers today want to learn the story behind their food?
Norwegian Seafood can clearly stand for itself. The seafood is so clean, delicious and pristine that I think consumers can understand the higher quality of the fish. As a chef, you don’t have to do much to the fish to let it shine and taste delicious, which truly speaks to the high quality of the fish.
Speaking of chefs, you had the opportunity to work with several local Norwegian chefs. What was that like?
Not only were all of the chefs very young and accomplished, but they were also all pushing boundaries in their own way, which was very neat.
Seafood was a big focus of your trip. What were some of the highlights?
I think the best attribute of all the seafood was that you really don’t have to do much to the fish to let it shine. I used the trout to make a sashimi, which just goes to show how delicious this fish is! Incredibly delicious and fatty, I didn’t want to do too much to it because it was so great on its own. The salmon had the most perfect texture and was glistening with fat. It was interesting that when you removed the skin, you had to wipe the knife blade off because it was coated with fat, not scales…it was incredible! The cod was so tasty and easy to work with, it’s easy to see how it can become the star of the dish. While the mackerel was a smaller fish, it was definitely still easy to work with. We tea-smoked it, which allowed the flavors to come through nicely while still highlighting the quality of the fish.
The Tea Smoked Mackerel sounds incredible!Are there any techniques you learned that you plan on bringing back to your restaurant?
Chef Ørjan Johannessen showed me a new way of creating a gin and tonic with this neat lime-plum foam that goes on top of the drink. It adds a very cool layer and creaminess to a very crisp cocktail to create a spin on a classic. I actually brought this technique back with me and recently used it for an event, as well as a taping for Season 15 of SIMPLY MING!
Very cool! We expect, as a Bocuse d’Or winner, Chef Ørjan probably has quite a few fun spins on classic recipes. Do any other recipes or experiences stick out from the trip?
The salmon farm trip was one of my favorite experiences. I loved seeing how the salmon was raised and then getting to use it right afterwards in the kitchen with Geir Skeie. I made Cauliflower-Apple “Fried Rice” with Olive Oil–Poached Salmon and it was mouthwateringly delicious. I actually took the concept behind the dish and have used it in a variety of other ways for events!
That sounds like a memorable trip. Is there anything you missed that you plan on doing during your next visit to Norway?
I would love to be able to eat at more local restaurants, pubs, bars, etc. We unfortunately had so little time there due to the schedule of the shoots that we didn’t have much time outside of shooting our episodes to explore. I’d love to go back and have more time to explore their local markets and check out the best local restaurants.
Let us know when you do—we’ll be sure to share our favorite spots! Thanks for your time. We look forward to watching more of Season 14 of SIMPLY MING in Norway!