Friday, May 17, 2013

Exec. Chef Cris Comerford & Chef Ming Tsai Celebrate Asian American And Pacific Islander Cuisine With Two New White House Recipes

Let's Move!: In a new video, the acclaimed Chinese American chef joins the Filipina Top Toque to promote USDA's MyPlate campaign with healthy recipes for 'Shrimp, Chicken & Vegetable Fried Rice' and 'Halo-Halo'...
Per a Proclamation issued by President Obama, May is Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, honoring the 56 ethnic groups from Asia and the Pacific Islands who live in the United States.  As part of the celebration, in a video released on Friday, acclaimed Chinese American Chef Ming Tsai joins White House Executive Chef Cris Comerford, a native of the Philippines, to promote federal nutrition guidelines with a demo of two White House recipes inspired by AAPI culinary traditions.  (Above, Tsai, l, and Comerford at work)

With knives flying in the White House kitchen, the chefs show how to make a one-wok family dinner for four with a recipe for Shrimp, Chicken and Vegetable Fried Rice.   They also demonstrate a healthy version of the popular layered Filipino dessert treat Halo-Halo.  

"When I'm not busy cooking for the President and orchestrating state dinners, I'm actually cooking for family and friends," Comerford says in the video.  "And today I will cook one of my favorite dinners, which is shrimp, chicken and vegetable fried rice."

The eleven-plus minute video is a collaboration between First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! initiative, the Department of Agriculture, and the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.  It was created to "ensure that Asian American and Pacific Islander communities are aware of, can culturally relate to, and can easily adapt the dietary guidelines emulated by MyPlate," USDA said in a press release. 

Or as Tsai puts it onscreen:  "The key here is you don't have to sacrifice flavor, you don't have to sacrifice your culture to make food that's still actually good for you."

The First Lady unveiled MyPlate in June of 2011, and it is the visual centerpiece of government nutrition messaging.  It encourages citizens to follow the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and fill half their plates at each meal with fruits and vegetables, and to use lean meat, whole grain, and low- or non-fat dairy.  

Comerford's recipe for fried rice covers the requirements for vegetables, whole grain, and lean meats, while the recipe for Halo-Halo, made with milk, yogurt and fruit, fulfills the rest of the requirements.  Both are reprinted below.  As Tsai and Comerford explain MyPlate onscreen, there's plenty of fun banter about Asian cooking habits and Mrs. Obama's Kitchen Garden.  But they also stay on-message.

"What makes this dish extra good is that it follows the MyPlate guidelines for nutrition and portion size, illustrating that there's no reason we have to sacrifice the foods we love in order to eat a healthy diet," Comerford says about the fried rice. 

Tsai is an award-winning cookbook author and TV personality ("Simply Ming," among other projects).  An Ohio native, he grew up cooking in his family's Mandarin restaurant.  He was educated at Yale and trained in France, and now owns the critically acclaimed Blue Ginger restaurant in Wellesley, Mass.  A longtime supporter of Let's Move!, Tsai has cooked with Let's Move! Executive Director Sam Kass, and also attended last year's Presidential Turkey Pardon.  He helped fundraise for President Obama's re-election campaign, as one of the Boston "Chefs for Obama."

Tsai is "one of my favorite chefs," says Comerford, who has been Top Toque at the White House since 2005, promoted to her current post after joining the staff in 1997.  She's both the first woman and the first minority in White House history to be Executive Chef.  Comerford grew up in Sampaloc, Manila, in a family of eleven children, and helped her mother cook, she wrote in a post with the video and recipes on the Let's Move! blog.  Comerford said she cherishes her Filipino cooking traditions--but done with healthier ingredients. 

"Following a healthy cooking and eating lifestyle has always been important for me as a chef and a mom, and with the USDA’s MyPlate food icon, we have a powerful visual reminder about how to build healthy meals for our families," Comerford wrote.

"I hope that after watching Chef Ming Tsai and I prepare healthy and delicious AAPI recipes in the White House kitchen, you too will be inspired to try your own take at making healthy, ethnic food for your own families to eat," Comerford wrote.

The First Lady recently launched the MyPlate Recipe Partnership with and five popular cooking sites to make it easier for home cooks to find MyPlate recipes.  Visit and for federal information about the initiatives.

Check the sidebar for other White House recipes, or CLICK HERE for links

Wok steady, Ninja style:  How to make the perfect "House rice" for the recipe...
Comerford's fried rice recipe, made in a single work or large skillet, serves four.  It uses carrots, celery, onions, shiitake mushrooms, scallions, Napa cabbage, Bok Choy, and brown and white rice, prepared with canola and sesame oil, garlic, vegetarian Oyster sauce, wheat-free Tamari sauce, rice vinegar, and salt and pepper.  

The chefs use what Tsai calls "house rice," a fifty-fifty mix of white rice and brown rice that "hides" the fact that a healthier whole grain is being used. 

"Kids don't want straight brown rice, and sometimes customers don't want straight brown rice," Tsai says. 

"When you use fifty-fifty, it's kinda like Ninja, it gets in there and no one knows it, but it's whole grain, which is of course better for you."

For "perfect rice," Tsai advises home cooks to "soak the brown rice for an hour by itself," then add it to the white rice, and "mix it and cook like normal."  Comerford and Tsai use day-old rice when making their dish, "so it's nice and dry," Tsai says.

The chefs add a splash of rice vinegar to the fried rice, and note that the acid allows for less salt to be used in the finished recipe. 

White House Shrimp, Chicken And Vegetable Fried Rice

*3 Tbsp Canola Oil

*6 Oz Chicken Breast, julienned

*1/2 Lb Shrimp, medium size, peeled and deveined, halved lengthwise

*1 Small Onion, sliced

*1 Bunch Scallions, white part sliced, 2 Tbs green part, saved for garnish

*6 Cloves Garlic, minced

*6 Oz Shiitake Mushrooms, sliced

*2 Carrots, julienned

*2 Celery Stalks, julienned
*1 Cup Napa Cabbage, julienned

*2  Small Bok Choy, julienned  

*4 Cups House Rice (50/50 brown and white rice combo)

*3 Tbsp Light Tamari, wheat-free soy sauce

*1 Tbsp Vegetarian Oyster Sauce

*1 Tsp Sesame Oil

*Salt and Pepper to taste

*Splash of Rice Vinegar

1.  Pre-heat a large skillet or wok on a medium heat.  Turn the heat up to high and add 2 tablespoons Canola oil. 

2.  Add the chicken and brown for 1 minute or more, then add the shrimp, cook another minute or more, season with salt and pepper, and remove from wok; set aside.   *Make sure the chicken is cooked through, in the interest of food safety.

3.  Add remaining tablespoon of Canola oil to wok.  Then add the onion, garlic and shiitake mushrooms.  Stir fry quickly, being careful not to burn the garlic.  

4.  Add the remainder of the vegetables and toss until well mixed but not wilted. 

5.  Add the chicken and shrimp back into the wok, add the rice, and pour in the Tamari and Oyster sauce.  Mix thoroughly and add a splash of the rice vinegar, per the video.

6.  Heat through, and drizzle with sesame oil.  Garnish with scallion greens before serving. 

*Makes 4 servings.

A healthier version of Halo-Halo...
Halo-Halo--which translated from Tagalog means "mix," according to Comerford--is traditionally made with syrup-sweetened fruit, syrup sweetened beans, leche flan, purple yam ice cream, shaved ice, and Tapioca pearls, all layered together in a tall glass with sweet, evaporated milk on top.  It's fairly high in sugar and fat.  (Above, Comerford and Tsai mix the Halo-Halo)

But the White House recipe demo'd in the video, for four servings, offers a big change.  Using tall glasses, the recipe calls for layering Tapioca pearls, fresh mango and pineapple, coconut, steamed edamame, and shaved ice, topped with a half-cup of low-fat milk with a little vanilla extract.  A dollop of plain, non-frozen yogurt is added, and sprinkled with what Comerford says is "Pinipig," which is flattened, toasted rice grains.  Comerford and Tsai seem to be using brown puffed rice crispies onscreen, however.

"One issue with the Asian diet is there's really no dairy, so calcium intake in minority groups is low," Comerford says as she discusses the nutritional value of the Halo-Halo.

Note:  The Halo-Halo recipe released by Let's Move! with the video is NOT exactly what Comerford and Tsai demonstrate onscreen.  It calls for ingredients they did not use:  Banana, jackfruit poached in light syrup, and canned, cooked beans in syrup.  It also leaves out the steamed edamame and fresh pineapple used in the video, and calls for frozen yogurt, while Comerford uses non-frozen yogurt onscreen. 

White House Halo-Halo

*2 Mangos, ripe, peeled and diced

*1 Banana, ripe, peeled and diced

*1 Cup young Coconut, fresh or canned

*1 Cup ripe Jackfruit, poached in light syrup (available canned)

*1 Cup cooked Beans in syrup (available canned)

*1 Cup cooked Tapioca Pearls

*4 Cups Shaved Ice

*2 Cups Low-fat Milk

*1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

*4 Scoops Frozen Yogurt (flavor of your choice) (Note: non-frozen yogurt can be used as well)

*2 Tbsp toasted "Pinipig" {or puffed brown rice crispies}

1.  In four tall glasses, place a quarter cup of each of the first six ingredients.  

2.  Top each glass with 1 cup of shaved ice.  

3.  Mix vanilla extract into milk.  Pour 1/2 cup of milk into each glass, and top with a scoop of frozen yogurt (or non-frozen yogurt).  Sprinkle with Pinipig or rice crispies. 

*Makes four servings.

Note:  The fruit can be substituted with any seasonal or tropical fruits, and edamame, per the video.


Note:  Both recipes re-printed here include spelling corrections and clarifications from the text of the recipes posted on  

*Let's Move!/USDA/White House AAPI video.