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Ming Tsai has mobilized his network of generous chef friends to help families fight cancer.
Chef Ming Tsai created Cooking Live! to benefit Family Reach Foundation. Here, he talks about his involvement with the organization.
Chefs are incredibly generous. They all give back—whether it’s Share Our Strength, Meals on Wheels, we all have our own causes. They’re awesome causes, and I do whatever I can for them. But for the last four years, 90 percent of my time has gone to Family Reach. It started when I hosted a dinner for one of their young, terminally ill patients. Then I wanted to get more involved. I know what other amazing charities do, including raising billions to help find a cure for cancer. And thank God for them. But there are so many families that don’t really care about cures because it’s too late for them. They need their electricity bill paid. They need gas for their car so they can get to treatments. That’s where Family Reach comes in. They help families in need so they can focus on what matters most: getting better.
I told Carla Tardif, Family Reach’s executive director, that I’m not the answer but I can help build awareness of the organization through food. She didn’t know me, she really had no idea who I was. Her meals usually consisted of PowerBars. Thank God I’ve made some changes with that, too! That’s a side accomplishment. I told her she would not believe the power of the chefs’ network. We make stuff happen. So that’s why I created Cooking Live! I can get chefs like Morimoto and Ken Oringer to cook at an event, where foodies can watch their demos and have a great meal and great wine and also hear about the extraordinary work that Family Reach is doing. Once I explained the charity to chefs like Marc Forgione, Kenny O and Morimoto, they said, "Of course I’m in." And every year, they say, "You'd better invite me next year." Because of our event setup—a kitchen in the center of the room instead of hidden in the back—the chefs hear all of the families’ stories, too. That’s what made the difference. That’s what makes those chefs jump on it. They all want in. And it’s actually now one of the challenges, because I can’t have a 12-course meal, so we actually have to say no to some chefs. It’s a great problem to have. I’m proud to say that our fraternity of chefs is so generous. It’s more than writing a check, which is awesome, but when you can also get them to cook, dedicate their time and spread the word. That’s so much more important.
If one of my kids gets cancer, I won’t go bankrupt or have to worry about my electricity being shut off. But to normal middle-class people in this country, it’s a real problem. The one stat that has really stuck with me is that of the 110,000 families this year who have a child or young adult with cancer, 40 percent will file for bankruptcy. Can you imagine? You lose your home and you’re dealing with a child who is incredibly sick with cancer. What do you do then?
More information about Family Reach, including upcoming events, is available here. The recent New York City event included amazing dishes from star chefs Ken Oringer, Marc Forgione, Morimoto, Carla Hall and, of course, Ming Tsai. Here, he shares his recipe from the event:
Rice Paper-Wrapped Salmon, Sautéed Spinach and Chipotle-Carrot Syrup
Four 6-ounce center-cut skinless salmon fillets, deboned
1 bunch Thai basil
4 rice paper wrappers, 10- to 12-inch rounds
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 large shallot, minced
2 tablespoons garlic, minced
2 tablespoons ginger, peeled and minced
4 cups spinach, washed, dried, stems removed
2 tablespoons butter
2 quarts carrot juice (fresh or store-bought)
1 teaspoon chipotle peppers in adobo, chopped
1. Preheat oven to 350°. Season fillets with salt and pepper on both sides.
2. Soften the rice-paper wrappers: Place 1 in a circular baking dish and cover with hot water. Soak until just softened, about 2 seconds. Transfer the wrapper to a lint-free towel to drain, top with a second towel and blot dry. Repeat this process 4 times and stack them on top of one another. Flip the stack and carefully remove the top towel, revealing the first wrapper. Place 2 basil leaves in center, top with piece of salmon (skin side up) and finish with 2 more basil leaves. Fold 2 rice paper sides in first. Then follow with top and bottom. Transfer to a plate, fold side down. Repeat until all 4 packs are done.
3. In a large, nonreactive saucepan, bring the carrot juice to a gentle simmer over low heat. Reduce the juice until all the liquid is evaporated, leaving a wet residue, about 45 minutes.
4. In a large, ovenproof sauté pan over medium-high heat, add 2 tablespoons oil and swirl to coat the bottom. Carefully place the 4 salmon packs in the pan, seam side up. Sear the packs until they are crisp and brown, roughly 3 minutes. Flip the packs and transfer the pan to the oven. Cook for 8-10 minutes.
5. With a heat-resistant rubber spatula, scrape the residue from the reduced carrot juice pan and transfer it to a blender. Add the chipotle in adobo and blend at high speed. With the machine running, drizzle in the oil very slowly at first until the mixture is emulsified, then add the oil more quickly to prevent the sauce from breaking. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
6. In a large sauté pan over medium-high heat, add 2 tablespoons butter and swirl to coat the bottom. Add garlic, ginger and shallots and cook until soft and fragrant. Add the spinach and cook until warm and slightly wilted. Season with salt and pepper.
7. To plate, arrange spinach in center. Place salmon pack on top. Drizzle carrot syrup around in a circle.