Over lunch at the Fairmont Turnberry Isle Resort & Club, Ming Tsai, celebrity chef and golf nut, is explaining how he became friends with Annika Sorenstam, golf legend and closet foodie.
“We met at the ShopRite Classic pro-am five years ago,” says Ming, owner and head chef of the acclaimed Blue Ginger restaurant in Wellesley, outside Boston. “We’re done around two o’clock, and Annika says, ‘What are you doing now?’ I say, ‘Well, I have to go roll sushi for a thousand people.’ So she says, ‘Can I come?’”
Ming pauses to swirl an onion ring in a heap of ketchup, and the Swedish superstar has an opportunity to speak up. But in this pairing, the animated chef does most of the talking. Annika tucks into her salad while Ming continues. “So now we’re in the back of the Trump Taj Mahal hotel kitchen in Atlantic City, and I give her a knife and say, ‘Annika, you have to be very careful, because if you slice your finger and can’t play golf because of me . . .’ But she absolutely knew how to handle it.”
The two are at the resort for the Stanford International Pro-Am and a taping of Simply Ming, to be broadcast on public television in the fall. Each episode usually features a guest and two master ingredients—one from the East and one from the West. Today it’s Annika, ginger and lemon. After lunch, they head out to the eighteenth green, where a cooking station is waiting.
“Cut! We have to start over,” Ming shouts. “I just said ‘delicious golf course’!” It’s an unseasonably warm day, even by Miami standards. Annika points to a mammoth salmon filet: “I think this guy is already cooking.” The two share an easy rapport, talking between takes about their families and the flaws in Ming’s golf game. Annika’s knife skills are put to the test as she slices a mound of fennel. A few takes and the producer says, “We’ve got it.” As expected, the pair’s gravlax with lemon fennel salad is simply delicious.
After the taping, Annika heads to the practice green to roll some putts. “Cooking is a way for me to get away from golf,” she says. “There are no expectations in the kitchen. Ming and I have reverse passions, so we get along well.”