Bruce Cost: The Man Behind the Ginger Ale

Leading up to Asian Feastival, we’ll not only give you a sneak peek at some of our participating restaurants, but a chance to get to know some of our panelists as well.  Say hello to Bruce Cost.  One of the trailblazers of Asian cuisine in America, Bruce is an established restaurateur, lecturer, cookbook author, and most recently, the founder of Real Ginger, Ginger Ale. Not only will he be on the Asian Fusion Confusion panel with Ed Schoenfeld and Jamie Tiampo, but he’ll be bringing his ginger ale to pair with our smorgasbord of tastings.

Asian Feastival: You have long been one of the nation’s leading authorities on Asian food.  How did you first get interested in Asian food?
Bruce Cost: Long time ago when I started working right out of college (1966), I had friend from Shanghai who cooked me a steamed fish with ginger.  Also around the same time, my wife bought me a wok for my birthday.  I was interested in China because there wasn’t much news about it then. I studied in New York City for years with the late Virginia Lee before continuing to learn on my own.

AF: You seem to have found the secret ingredient in how to make Asian food appealing to the mainstream American. What provided you with such insights?
BC: What I do I’d like to think is traditional, but tastes good to anyone in any culture. I am not a fan of most fusion cooking. I do use the best possible ingredients, which is more the case in Asia than U.S. Often Chinese restaurants in America cut corners, particularly with oils and stocks. Also, the interior of my restaurants is modern without many Asian touches, probably more highly designed and comfortable than many Chinese restaurants.

AF: Ginger has recently been named the number one Asian flavor in Asian cuisine when polling food service professionals nationwide recently. Why do you think Americans are growing so fond of ginger these days?
I believe, more than any herbal ingredient, mankind has an affinity for ginger which people began using hundreds of years ago in South and East Asia, it makes food taste better, it makes people feel better and, many don’t realize, it’s a mild stimulant — it warms you up. Ginger is taking its rightful place as a mainstream ingredient because it’s for sale everywhere and American chefs now consider it a staple no matter what kind of cooking they do.

AF: What inspired you to come up with the idea of bottling natural, unfiltered ginger ale?
I sold it for almost 20 years in my restaurants, starting in California; but we made it on-site and added carbonated water and a squeeze of lime to order; Because it was always the top selling beverage in all the restaurants, outselling even Coke, I’ve been meaning to bottle it for years and finally did with my partners at TMI Trading. Some think the bottled beverage is even better. There are currently 3 flavors – regular, pomegranate and green tea.

AF: How did you come up with these flavors?
The pomegranate is the second most popular flavor in my restaurants. The jasmine tea was an experiment that worked.

AF: Are you working on new flavors to be introduced?
Probably introduce a new flavor next spring.

AF: I know friends visiting from Asia also asked where they can get some. This product seems to have struck the perfect chord, attracting both Asian and non-Asian. Where are some of the places people can find your ginger ale these days?
Mostly in NY area right now: Whole Foods, Dean & Deluca, Gourmet Garage, Zabars, and many small gourmet grocery stores.  Restaurants such as Porchetta, Momofuku Ssam Bar, Barbutto.  Many distinguished small Asian restaurants in Lower East Side, East Village, Brooklyn….FreshDirect is delivering it. There’s some in Chicago and Minnesota.  It’ll soon be in California and also Park N Shop in Hong Kong.

AF: What is your favorite kind of food or cuisine?
Chinese food is essentially my career. It is the oldest, most fascinating (they employ every known cooking technique and an infinite variety of ingredients) and most influential (a case can be made that for all surrounding Asian countries, Chinese is the mother cuisine). In Southern China, everyone has been fanatical about fresh, local ingredients for centuries. I love a whole, fresh steamed fish, preferably one that I caught. I also love pork belly, a staple of China forever that Americans are just discovering.