Ming Tsai: Fired Up About Food Allergies
Education and Advocacy Ming Tsai, TV host of Simply Ming, and owner of the Blue Ginger restaurant in Wellesley, MA, is also a passionate food allergy advocate. Tsai shares his best practices for allergy-friendly dining, and tips for parents raising kids with allergies.
Mediaplanet Where does your commitment to food allergies advocacy and awareness come from?
Ming Tsai Sixteen years ago I opened up my restaurant Blue Ginger and that was before we had children. I believed — and still believe — that every restaurant should be able to safely serve food to anyone that comes into it. Fast forward two years and my first son, Daniel, was born. The very unfunny joke from upstairs was that he was born with food allergies to soy, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, dairy, eggs, and shellfish.
So, that furthered my commitment to food allergies because of one event we experienced when he was three trying to go to a restaurant. We explained his allergies and said we just wanted sliced turkey on lettuce, and the manager basically said he’d rather not serve us. That of course infuriated me and furthered my conviction to get other restaurants as safe as we are at Blue Ginger.
MP As a parent, what was it like for you raising your son with food allergies?
MT We as parents were as diligent as every other parent in this world; we just had to take extra precautions. Granted, I realize I’m a chef so it’s a little easier for me considering I have two restaurants. But absolutely for my wife, the mom, there was nothing more anxiety filled than having a child with food allergies because every possible birthday party, or the school itself, are all places where you’re not with your kid. You do need to organize and get your ducks in order to make sure, absolutely, that everyone that comes into contact with your child realizes they have a food allergy and the severity of it.
MP What is one of the most important things parents can do to keep their children safe?
MT I would say the most important is that once your child is at least two or three, they need to realize they have allergies. At age three, David knew his seven allergies and he could say it. So before he’d eat anything he’d say, “I have allergies, what’s in there?” and that is much more important than even two parents being all over it because the two parents are not always going to be there.
MP What are some of your favourite substitutions?
MT A lot of Asian products, brown rice, and fried rice. It’s important to not portray the food allergy not like you can’t eat that but rather that you can eat this. You can still make delicious food. You can absolutely get around it, you just have to find the products that don’t have the allergies in them that your kid has and perfect how to use those products.
MP What tips do you have for parents?
MT A great tip of course is that you put the bracelet on right? Kids at a young age will ask “what’s this for?” And you say “this explains your food allergies — this you must show to every parent before you eat anything.” So here, if you can’t remember your seven allergies because you’re three, you have to remember you have the bracelet so if you point that out parents say “oh”! Everyone knows what a MedicAlert bracelet looks like and that takes notice.
MP What recommendations do you have for children to have as normal of a lifestyle as possible?
MT I think to make your home completely safe and sterile is then bad training for the kid with the allergies. When they go out to the real world and over to a friend’s house, they’re not going to be in a sterile environment like their home. I think that disparity is too extreme. I think more importantly, back to my first point, is that you need to train your child, saying “you have to ask”, and “you have to read labels” etc. because that is so key. Again, you can blame a restaurant or your friend all day long for your kid getting sick but it’s the kid’s responsibility to make sure people know what’s going on. It’s important to train them and have them say “dad, what’s in this?” at home so that they repeat that action when they’re not at home.