In a recent interview with Tasting Table, Ming Tsai confirmed what many vegans have been shouting about for years: great-tasting food is all about how you cook, rather than what you cook.
The nationally acclaimed restaurateur and Iron Chef, who is an advocate for East-West cuisine and plant-forward meals, summarized to the food and drink website that delicious cooking is really about using the right technique, combined with the right seasoning and sauces.
He added that cooking meat is relatively easy and that you can simply swap out animal products for plant-based meat alternatives to replace the texture. But it’s getting the vegetables right that will really make a meal special.
“You give kids steamed broccoli or boiled broccoli for the first time with salt and it’s mushy,” Tsai, who also has his own plant-based dim sum line called MingsBings, noted. “They’re going to hate broccoli for a very long time. If you start the pan with garlic and oil, they don’t care what is in the pan. Then you put your broccoli and cauliflower and bok choy, [and] they love the veg.”
He also explained to the publication that the reason he is such an advocate for plant-based cooking is health-related. “It started basically out of the blue,” he recalled. “My wife had a big health scare five and a half years ago, and we made two pretty quick decisions. The first one was easy: let’s go to Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. The second step we decided collectively [was to] go vegan.”
He added that this lifestyle change was based on the theory that plant-based diets reduce inflammation in the body. And there is a growing body of research out there to back this up. In November 2022, for example, a study, published in BMC Medicine and conducted by researchers from South Korea’s Kyung Hee University, indicated that eating a plant-based diet could lower the risk of colorectal cancer in men by 22 percent.
“We speculate that the antioxidants found in foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains could contribute to lowering colorectal cancer risk by suppressing chronic inflammation, which can lead to cancer,” said Jihye Kim, one of the study’s authors, in a statement.
How to cook delicious plant-based food, according to Ming Tsai
But you don’t have to rely on chefs at all to enjoy delicious plant-based food. After discussing his own vegan journey and MingsBings, Tsai also shared a few cooking tips with Tasting Table, and you can find the highlights below.
1 Find a good (vegan) oyster sauce
Popular in Chinese cooking, oyster sauce has a deep, rich, savory flavor, guaranteed to give your dish a boost of umami. While it’s usually made with real oysters, there are plenty of plant-based alternatives on the market. “[It’s] a stir-fry cheat for that unctuous, deep umami flavor you get in every beef and broccoli and goomba chicken, all these great classic Chinese stir-fries. There’s always oyster sauce used. A veggie oyster sauce is a great way to make any stir-fry taste better,” says Tsai.
2 Swap salt for soy sauce
When it comes to great flavor, another popular go-to for cooking vegetables is salt. But Tsai says you’ll get superior results if you opt for soy sauce, instead. “If you use soy sauce versus salt, you’re going to get a sweeter, more deep flavor of soy sauce without the same sodium quantity,” he explains. “You can also reduce sodium by using acid. Quite often, I’ll use half the amount of sodium that a recipe normally would call for, and I will squeeze a lemon or a lime or splash of vinegar in it. That makes veggies sing.”
3 Don’t skip out on herbs
And finally, Tsai says, do not underestimate the power of simple herbs. “Of course, [pasta with] thick heavy cream sauce is not going to be good for you,” he says. “[With] good fettuccine alfredo, you could take those same noodles and you could add much more veg to it and still do the garlic stir-fry and the olive oil, and at the end, add herbs. Herbs are the other MSG—fresh basil, fresh parsley, fresh cilantro, and fresh mint. That also makes things pop.”
The world’s leading chefs are embracing vegan food
Tsai is far from alone. In the cheffing world, a number of high-profile individuals have acknowledged the merits and benefits of plant-based cooking.
Just recently, two James Beard Award-winning chefs, Michael Solomonov and Top Chef finalist Gregory Gourdet, revealed they were partnering with Greek brand Violife to add new innovative dishes, made with vegan cheese, to their menus. And last year, renowned celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay (who has also won multiple James Beard awards), invited plant-based chefs Ian Theasby and Henry Firth (the founders of BOSH!) to guest judge with him on his BBC show Future Food Stars.
“The experience was fantastic and such an amazing sign of the times that vegan food is getting highlighted on primetime national TV,” Theasby and Firth told VegNews at the time. “Even the biggest chefs in the world are now taking vegan food seriously.”
Michelin-starred chef Alexis Gauthier has also gone vegan, removing foie gras from his London restaurant menu in 2021. And last year, Daniel Humm hit the headlines when he announced that his New York restaurant Eleven Madison Park, which has three Michelin stars, would be embracing a new plant-based approach to food.
Like Tsai, Humm was driven by a deeper motivation: the environment. After all, animal agriculture is devastating to the natural world. It is a leading driver of deforestation, plus it emits 14.5 percent of global greenhouse gasses, according to the United Nations.
“A restaurant experience is about more than what’s on the plate,” Humm said at the time. “We are thrilled to share the incredible possibilities of plant-based cuisine while deepening our connection to our homes: both our city and our planet.”