February 7, 2016 | Tarin Teno
Ring in the Lunar New Year with “Monkey Cuvee”
Chinese New Year, the Year of the Monkey, starts February 8. The festivities continue for 15 days. San Francisco’s Chinese New Year parade, the biggest and oldest in the U.S., is February 20. Delicious food is the centerpiece of Chinese celebrations, so we were especially happy to get to chat with our special chef friend Ming Tsai, who gifted us with a recipe for his delicious and very lucky pot stickers. (See below.)
The Monkey is the ninth animal in the 12 year cycle. People born in the Year of the Monkey are characterised as lively, quick-witted, curious, innovative and mischievous. In addition, their gentleness and honesty bring them an everlasting love.
To celebrate, Iron Horse has created a special production of Year of the Monkey Cuvee. $5 a bottle goes to the Leakey Foundation to help protect the natural habitats of primates like the Golden Snub Nosed Monkey featured on the label.
It is a perfect birthday present year long for people born in the Year of the Monkey and as a good luck gift for parents expecting babies this year.
And here to help us understand more about the time honored Chinese New Year celebrations is Chef Ming Tsai, famed restaurateur and culinary visionary born in the Year of the Dragon. Read on for our complete interview.
You’re a very special chef friend for Iron Horse. We’re very proud that our Year of the Dragon was featured on your February 2014 menu for the State Department lunch with the former VP Xi of China. Can you recount any specific memories about the toast that day and what it meant for you to be part of it?
It was an amazing day. To be able to cook for the now President Xi and Vice President Biden was a great honor. My father was there along with my wife and he was tickled pink that cooking could bring a man so far. Biden and Hillary Clinton thanked me personally for the meal, Hillary believed that negotiations went better because of the thoughtful menu and the bonding ritual of coming together over a delicious meal. It was this positive experience which provided the impetus to create the now famous “Chef’s Core” at the State Department, Hillary saw the merit in leveraging American chefs as diplomatic aids.
I was able to meet all three leaders at the end of the meal. Because I speak Chinese, I greeted President Xi in his language. My 3-4 minute conversation had to be translated for Hillary and Biden and touched on my philosophy as a chef. I was humbled and amazed that he took time with me.
So, in addition to a career highlight, you could call this the unofficial kick off of the Chef Core!
Yes, and I’m proud to have been at the forefront of the ongoing program. The State Department recruits chefs who understand the culture of the visiting diplomats. For my part in this first dinner, I brought my understanding of Chinese preferences. Protein like duck along with hot soups are a favorite, so I took the opportunity to weave in those elements. I also served an interpretation of my signature butter fish using soy marinated butter instead of miso which is a Japanese ingredient.
Tell me a little bit about your background and what inspired you to dive into this business as a restaurateur and renowned chef.
I’ve cooked my whole life. I had a natural love for food which grew during summers in Paris while I was in college. I immersed myself in French cuisine & pastry and immediately decided I had to merge French with Chinese food. For me, these are the two master cuisines of the world which have been around for the longest time. From then on, I explored a blend of these two top techniques.
This appreciation of French production techniques is a natural point of intersection with Iron Horse!
That’s true. It’s part of why I appreciate the Iron Horse bubbles, they’re made in the US but with a French style.
You have a TV show called "Simply Ming" which airs in Boston, do you have any other interesting projects that you’re currently working on?
One cool project I’m working on is called FoodyDirect. It is a web based food delivery service offering regional favorites from over 100 different restaurants, delis, and bakeries. You literally get Blue Ginger food sent to your home with simple instructions on how to finish it off. I’m excited because FoodyDirect is now offering my signature butter fish dish which goes out goes out authentically from my hands in my kitchen. We’re also serving our pot stickers especially for the Chinese New Year, they bring good luck.
Chinese New Year is fast approaching. How do the menus that you concept reflect Chinese New Year celebrations at your restaurants?
We’ll prepare a couple special dishes and always include dumplings. The proper dumpling has a crescent shape and is said to bring prosperity. Some families hide a coin in a dumpling, the lucky bite promises an exceptionally great year. We’ll have a “whole fish” dish at Blue Dragon. Wholeness is a major theme at this holiday, it signifies completeness into the New Year. Especially with fish, have to keep a good head and tail, it suggests a great beginning and end.
How integral are bubbles in marking calendar milestones? How do your guests react to the popping of a cork in your dining rooms?
Chinese are just learning how to drink wine and I think they’ll learn as I did - that champagne is great for everything - breakfast lunch and dinner! It’s unfortunate that many think it’s only appropriate at special occasions, it should be enjoyed every day. It seamlessly cuts through fat like french fries or tempura on my menu. And the well made Iron Horse Blanc de Blancs hold up against some serious food very well.
It’s clear that you’re passionate about wine as a perfect compliment to the food portion of a celebratory meal, what will you be drinking tonight at your Chinese New Year celebration?
Iron Horse is a staple, they don’t make a bad champagne. I’ll be popping the special production Year of the Monkey Cuvee. After cooking all day at Super Bowl 50, it will be the perfect way to unwind with family and lots of dumplings.
Can you provide some guidance on a Chinese New Year inspired recipe that Iron Horse readers can create in their own home with Year of the Monkey Cuvee?
Pork and Apple Pot Stickers with Dim Sum Dipper
Makes 20 to 25 pot stickers
½ pound ground pork, (not too lean)
4 tablespoons butter, softened
1 green apple, peeled, finely diced
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh ginger
1 ½ tablespoons finely chopped garlic
1 tablespoon sambal oelek
2 tablespoon naturally brewed soy sauce
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 ½ teaspoons salt
Purchased Pot-Sticker Wrappers
2 tablespoons canola oil
Dim Sum Dipper*
1. To make the filling, combine the pork and the butter in a large bowl. Knead the butter into the pork until it is fully incorporated. Add the apple, ginger, garlic, sambal, soy sauce, sesame oil, egg and salt to the pork and mix.
2. To fill the pot stickers, place about ½ tablespoon of the filling in the center of each wrapper. Avoid getting filling on the edges of the wrapper, which would prevent proper sealing. Fold each wrapper in half to form a half-moon shape. Seal the top center of each dumpling by pressing between the fingers and, starting at the center, make 3 pleats, working toward the bottom right. Repeat, working toward the bottom left corner. Press the dumplings down gently on the work surface to flatten the bottoms.
3. Heat a large non-stick skillet over high heat. Add the oil and swirl to coat. When the oil shimmers, add the pot stickers, flattened bottoms down, in rows of five and cook in batches without disturbing until brown, about 6 minutes. Add about ½ cup of water and immediately cover to avoid splattering. Lift the cover and make sure about 1/8 inch of water remains in the pan; if not, add a bit more. Steam until the pot stickers are puffy, yet firm and the water has evaporated, 8-10 minutes. If the water evaporates before the pot stickers are done, add more in ¼ cup increments. If the pot stickers seem done but water remains in the pan, drain it and return the pan to the stove top.
4. Continue to cook over high heat to allow the pot stickers to recrisp on the bottom, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer the pot stickers to a platter and serve with the dipping sauce.
*Dim Sum Dipper
Makes about 1 cup
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup rice wine vinegar
1/3 cup scallions, green parts only, sliced 1/8 inch thick
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon sambal oelek
In a medium bowl, combine the soy sauce, vinegar, scallions, sesame oil and sambal oelek. Stir to blend and use or store.
Are you curious about your birth year in the Chinese zodiac?
The Chinese animal zodiac is a repeating cycle of 12 years, each year is represented by an animal and its reputed attributes. In order, the 12 animals are: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, Pig.
The Iron Horse family wishes you a great Year of the Monkey filled with with happiness, bright colors, beautiful blossoms, the excitement of fireworks and, of course, delicious food and wine. Gung Hay Fat Choy!
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