NEW YORK - Ming Tsai upped the ante on his Valentine's Day menu for Sunday after he realized Chinese New Year fell on the same day.
The Chinese-American chef, known for his fusion of Asian and Western cuisines, blended ingredients that symbolize wealth and fertility for the Lunar New Year with those that represent love and passion on Valentine's Day.
Tsai, 45, who owns the Blue Ginger restaurant in Wellesley, Massachusetts, spoke to Reuters about mixing Chinese and Valentine's Day traditions and why there will be no chocolate for dessert.
Q: Was this Valentine's Day a culinary challenge for you?
A: "It's the only instance when I could remember that Chinese New Year fell on Valentine's Day. I really thought this was a unique opportunity to combine both. Valentine's Day is about love and couples, but if you really further the analogy on love, that falls right into family. Quite often the anecdotes of Chinese New Year are not only based on good fortune and wealth and prosperity but the ultimate prosperous Chinese man or woman has a family."
Q: What on your Valentine's menu came from your childhood?
A: "As a kid, my grandparents would always do tea eggs, soy eggs or they would mix the soy and tea to make the mosaic-cracked eggs. Taking that basic idea of flavoring as opposed to Western cuisine, (in) which you just boil an egg, so by flavoring with a little tea and soy, and by deconstructing it, separating the yolk from the white, I came up with a Western-style plating which is a parfait which is a layered construction. We layer the yolk and white and top it off with a little wasabi tobiko which are, of course, flying fish roe which are also eggs. So it's a very fertile dish literally and figuratively because you are using chicken eggs, fish eggs and eggs symbolize fertility."
Q: You will serve duck breast but not a whole duck. Why?
A: "Traditionally as a kid, we would braise the whole duck. Obviously, it's for wholeness into the new year for good luck and fortune. Logistically for a restaurant, you can't serve a whole duck. It's too much for two people and Valentine's Day is all about two people. But I love duck, and it's one of the celebrated royal meats in Chinese culture. Duck also symbolizes fidelity."
Q: Why did you decide to offer a lychee dessert rather than a chocolate one which has become almost a necessity at a Valentine's Day dinner?
A: "One, you don't want to make people so full and heavy after a Valentine's Day meal. They may want to go dancing or whatever. Lychee is also one of my favorites and the granita you make from them, it's delicious -- nice and light. Lychee is a symbol of romance and love. It's said you put dried ones underneath a newlyweds' bed and that will guarantee them children."
Q: What do you hope to achieve with this menu?
A: "The world does need more love right now so maybe I'm helping it out hopefully."
Lychee Champagne Granita (Serves 2 to 4)
7 canned lychees
1/2 cup honey, preferably clover
1-1/2 cups sparkling water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1-1/2 cups champagne, plus more for garnish
Whole fresh lychees, for garnish (optional)
1. In a blender, combine lychees, honey, sparkling water and lemon juice. Blend until smooth. Strain mixture into a bowl.
2. Add champagne and stir to combine. Pour mixture into baking dish, stir once and freeze overnight.
3. To serve, scrape using the back of a fork, pile into chilled martini glasses and top with more Champagne and a whole lychee, for garnish, if desired.