Sunday, August 7, 2011

Sous Vide 3: Hamburger

Following the good example of Slow Food Columbus leader Bear Braumoeller, I bought some locally produced grass-fed ground beef at my local farmer's market and made burgers sous vide. The were deliciously palate-opening!

I took 1/3 of the 1 pound of meat I bought and gently shaped a burger patty. Just a little salt and freshly ground pepper, then into a Ziploc Freezer Bag. As with my other sous vide foods, I sucked the air out of the bag with a straw and sealed it.

Cooked the burger in its sous vide water bath at 127°F (between the temperatures recommended for rare and medium rare beef) for about 90 minutes. Very little of the meat juices had been exuded; they were almost all left inside the beef.

As with my other sous vide foods, the burger came out an unappetizing color ...

... but that was fixed with a quick 45 second searing on each side in a hot fry pan with a little oil. I accompanied the burger with slices of pan-grilled Vidalia onion and locally grown tomato.
The burger was uniformly and beautifully medium rare inside. The taste was remarkable: It had real flavor! The combination of grass-fed beef and sous vide preparation that kept the juices in the meat made a real difference in taste.

The best grilled burgers I've had are at Squire's restaurant in my Mom's home of Briarcliff Manor. They're flame broiled and for 40+ years have been the juiciest, tastiest burgers I've ever had. (Okay, the $32 burger at db Bistro Moderne in NYC is remarkable, but it's filled with braised short rib and black truffle.) But even the Squire's burger lacked the flavor of my sous vide burger. Maybe it's because its meat juices drip out of the burger onto the bun.

I thought of how I always load my burgers with Heinz ketchup. I savored my sous vide burger without that condiment, enjoying every bite. This was the first time in memory that I chose to have a burger without ketchup.

I'm looking forward to making my next sous vide burger tomorrow without the salt and pepper to see how the grain-fed beef tastes really plain.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Sous Vide 2: Short Ribs of Beef

Given my experience with the tenderness of sous vide steak, I recalled the incredibly tender short ribs I had 14 years ago prepared by chef Daniel Orr at NYC's La Grenouille restaurant. To this day, I've searched for but not found another short rib dish as tender as Orr's, with no sign of stringiness of the meat. Could he have cooked it sous vide?

I looked for several days for short ribs of beef and finally found some frozen at Carfagna's Italian market. After I thawed the vacuum packed meat, I was disappointed to find the pieces weren't the nice, thick, meaty short ribs I was accustomed to, but rather thin and fatty. Nevertheless, I cooked on.

With the 8 pieces in the 2 pounds of short ribs I had bought, I tried two different recipes: classic, with salt, pepper, minced garlic, and olive oil; and Chinese, with five spice powder, soy sauce, and sesame oil. Again, simple preparation: I rubbed the spices in, packed the meat in 1 quart Ziploc Freezer Bags, and poured in the oils; sucked the air out with a straw; but this time, the recommended cooking time was 36 to 48 hours at 133°F for medium rare.

By the second day of cooking, though, I had been invited out to dinner for that night. So I took out one packet after about 40 hours of cooking to try as an afternoon snack. It was the Chinese preparation.

The meat was medium rare and nicely tender. I thought the bag had leaked, though, as there was a lot of cooking liquid; I noticed a small hole in the bag, caused by a sharp rib bone.

While the meat was tender, it wasn't ethereally so, and the gristle between the meat and bone was chewy, though edible. When braised in the normal way, the gristle is very tender. I left the other pieces to cook.

I took out the other pieces for lunch the next day - a total of 62 hours cooking! I opened the classic style ones. They still looked medium rare. There was less cooking liquid too; these bags hadn't leaked.

I pan seared the ribs for about 45 seconds on each side to give them their classic browned appearance. Sliced open, the were still medium rare.

They tasted like my favorite part of a roasted prime rib: the outside layer between the fat and the rib eye. Although that part is always well done - and I like my beef very rare - it is the most flavorful and tender part, given all the fat that marbles and surrounds it.

The short rib meat was succulent and very tender - and it didn't have the stringiness that braised short ribs always have. The gristle was still chewy, but tender enough to eat and enjoy. I savored eating every piece, though there was rather little meat, given the big bones and thick layers of fat.

I'll have to try sous vide short ribs again with some meatier pieces. I think I may have discovered chef Daniel Orr's secret to his short rib preparation at La Grenouille in that truly memorable meal I had so many years ago.

My Memorable Meals: La Grenouille, January 24, 1997

My first trials cooking sous vide reminded me of a truly memorable dinner I had many years ago at NYC's La Grenouille restaurant. I wrote about that experience back then, included in notes I shared with friends on my Restaurant Week experiences in 1997. Here's that write-up:

For the sake of completeness, I need to describe how I got involved with this group of bargain seeking gourmets [my fellow 1997 Restaurant Week diners]. Richard and Peggy Hsia invited me to dinner in January. Their hobby is eating at NYC’s finest restaurants. I introduced Richard into the Cuomo administration (he had been a Wall St. lawyer and was looking for something more fulfilling; he became a Deputy Insurance Superintendent). I first dined with them years ago at the old 4-star Restaurant Lafayette at the Drake Hotel (where the aforementioned Jean-Georges Vongerichten began his rise to stardom). Richard asked if I would prefer Daniel or La Grenouille. I picked the latter, having not eaten there for many years (I used to eat there often, when I took Andersen recruits to lunch there in the 1970s). They invited Ray Chen to be the 4th at our table. Once he was invited, Ray called the maitre d’ and asked if he could ask the chef to do something special for us for dinner, since it was Peggy’s birthday. Here’s what I can recall of the menu 6 months after the event (alas, I can’t find my notes on it).

When we arrived, the maitre d’ told Ray that everything had been arranged. We were started with a small timbale of cold mung bean noodles that we enjoyed while looking over the wine list. We selected a modestly priced bottle of Bordeaux (the wine markup in these restaurants is an outrageous 300 to 500%!). Then came a demitasse of soup, described as “tomato bouillon,” a clear broth with small chunks of tomato and a lot of intensely flavorful minced green herb of some sort—really interesting, fresh flavors.

Our first entree was a slab of grilled stripped bass, topped with an extravagant amount of shaved truffles. As we were waxing poetic about the flavors of the dish, the captains presented a tray of roast pheasants. They took them back to the kitchen to be carved while we had a sorbet intermezzo.

The pheasant servings were presented topped with a slab of truffled foie gras paté, all in a rich, heavily reduced sauce. I noted how I had stopped eating pheasant because it is always dry and stringy. Yet this pheasant was moist and tender! At this point, chef Daniel Orr came out to greet us. It also became clear why we were given a normally-thought-to-be-undesirable table near the kitchen: Ours was the only table that the chef stopped by to greet. As we complimented him profusely about the dinner, I started to tell him how I normally don’t eat pheasant. He interrupted, saying: “Yes, it’s normally so dry. But I’ve found that if you don’t overcook it, pheasant can be moist and tender.” I had to agree and promise to try it again—but only if he cooked it.

I knew we were in trouble when the waiter reset the table with silverware. We were given a 3rd entree: braised short ribs of beef in a heavily reduced truffled sauce. I had seen other diners having this from the normal menu. It’s a dish that’s been made popular by Lespinasse at the St. Regis Hotel. This is a dish that is normally tender, but stringy (indeed, in dinner I had at Lespinasse a few weeks later, it was stringy). Yet the version here was fork-tender, yet held its form—something of a miracle! When the chef came out for a second visit, I tried to ask him about how he achieve this miracle, but was drowned out by the praises of my fellow diners. At this point, we cried “Enough!” and proceeded to dessert.

The 4 of us shared one round of 5 different desserts. The plates were cleared and were offered another round of 5 other different desserts, plus petit fours. Every kind of dessert was among them: from the classic French fruit tarts I recalled fondly from 20 years ago, to the more California-like presentations.

Although Richard treated, I managed to catch a glimpse of the bill and saw it was for the normal $75 per person, plus wine.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Sous Vide 1: First Trials

Inspired by rave reviews in cooking shows and by my foodie friends, I had to try cooking Sous Vide. It's a cooking technique where food is sealed in vacuum pouches and cooked a long time submerged in water at relatively low temperatures - the temperature at which the cooked food should end up. Made popular by famed chef Thomas Keller (The French Laundry, Per Se, and the recipes for the movie Ratatouille), the cooking method is often seen on Iron Chef America. I've tried cooking a few things so far and they've all come out wonderfully tender.

Keeping food within the narrow cooking temperature range required by this technique requires special equipment. I ordered a SousVide Supreme Demi from Bed Bath & Beyond through my local store (using a 20% off coupon, saving over $20 in handling costs rather than ordering online), which cost < $280 net and arrived less than 1 week after I ordered it.

I immediately tried soft-boiled eggs, since my friend May Lee's Facebook description of Onsen Tamago sounded so yummy. Easy to do: I just plunked a couple of raw eggs into the warm water after the machine brought the temperature up to the 146°F. I cooked them for about 1 hour. (While the cooking times are long, given the low cooking temperatures, the cooking times aren't strict, since once the food is done, it can be kept at that temperature without harm.) The eggs came out as others have described: The yolks were custardy; the whites, somewhat runny (the yolks cook require a lower temperature to cook through).

I tried cooking salmon steaks next. This required sealing the salmon pieces in plastic bags and sucking out the air. (Air is an insulator that prevents the food from cooking properly.) Rather than spending $150 for the SousVide vacuum packing machine, I tried using 1 quart Ziploc Freezer Bags. Preparation was quick and simple. After seasoning the fish, I sucked the air out of the bags using a soda straw. I cooked it to between rare and medium rare - according to the cooking chart: 122°F for about 45 minutes. I usually eat salmon sashimi raw on the inside, just quickly grilled on the outside, to keep it from being cooked too dry. The medium rare sous vide salmon came out creamily moist and tender.

Next I experimented with chicken leg quarters. I tried a recipe for chicken with 40 cloves of garlic - reminded me of one of the first recipes I tried ages ago front the Galloping Gourmet, cooked in a Romertopf clay pot - here leaving the skin on, seasoning with salt, pepper, herbs, garlic, and olive oil. Cooked at 176°F for 6 hours, as recommended in the recipe. When it was done, the pouch had a lot of oil, making the preparation somewhat akin to a confit. Under the broiler to brown the skin after cooking. I was a little disappointed: The chicken was overcooked and I preferred the taste and texture of my various chicken curry and stew recipes. The 176° had made sense to me, since that's the temperature I roast a whole chicken to. Now I see other recipes calling for cooking chicken legs at 140°. I'll try that next time.

Then on to a rib eye steak. Like the salmon, I seasoned it simply with a little salt and pepper, sealed the bag, and let it cook at 127°F for 1 hour to a rare medium rare. As recommended, I quickly pan seared the steak after its sous vide treatment to provide a crusty brown outside. The uniformly cooked steak had a nice toothy texture, yet tender throughout. My leftover steak was even more impressive the next day served cold in thin slices.

Since the salmon, chicken, and ribeye were experiments, I had bought inexpensive supermarket fish and meats and didn't bother taking pictures. My mistake! Despite their humble origin, the salmon and steak were fairly impressive in taste and appearance, worthy of showing.

Also, the Ziploc bags worked fine. With the chicken, partway through the cooking I saw a big air bubble in the bags causing them to float. I clearly hadn't gotten all the air out. So I just unzipped the bag, used my straw, sucked out the air, resealed it, and let it go on cooking.

The experiments were fairly successful, so on to the next round. Since cooking sous vide results in food that is incredibly tender, I wanted to try it on short ribs of beef. More to come.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Midwestern friendliness and the flu

A few days ago, I came down with a mild case of what I conclude is the flu. A little headachy, slight body aches, fever that progressed daily from 99.4° to 101.4° to 100.8° to normal today, and a general blah feeling. With my Internet connection, I was comfortable at home, keeping in touch with family and friends via facebook and email. I got a lot of sympathy and good advice.

This morning, my pastor, Kai Nilsen, called to alert me that he was stopping by in a few minutes to drop off some chicken soup and a bagel for me (and he's not even Jewish!). Kai and his family have become good friends of mine, but I really am not accustomed to church pastors making house calls! I took advantage of the sunny 60° day and went outside to meet Kai. I thanked him for the soup and the bagel – but neglected to thank him for the gifts of his kindness and friendship – and explained I didn't want to risk giving him the flu, so didn't give him my traditional hug or invite him in to my virus-laden home. I did say that I was floored by the fact that I had received a house call from my pastor – on his day off – and would be posting the fact on facebook.

Kai's visit ranks way up there in my book, on a par with my having personally been cooked dinner and served by then-Governor Kathleen Sebelius in her Kansas Governor's Residence. I've told all my family and friends around the world that my life in Ohio is distinguished by the genuine friendliness of people here. Today's experience is another example of that friendliness.

This is the first time I've had the flu since 1988. I've been good at getting my seasonal flu shots each fall. I also take Chinese Yin Qiao Jie Du Pian herbal cold pills at the first sign of a sniffle. Despite these precautions, I got the flu – or maybe because of these precautions, my flu was mild. Or perhaps the mildness the result of the midwestern friendliness that I've been so blessed with.

In any case, I recalled and stuck by my doctors' old advice for the flu: "Stay in bed for 3 days. You may feel better the second day and want to go to work. If you do, you'll relapse and be in bed for 2 weeks." So I stayed home, drank plenty of fluids, including my Mom's new recommendation: honey and cinnamon in hot water (I used hot green tea, taking advantage of another friend's recommendation). I feel almost completely normal now – and very blessed. Still, I'm going to limit my contact with others for the next couple of days to be sure I don't spread any lingering virus particles.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Cornell Asian Alumni Association's 2011 Banquet

"More than any other person I know, [Rod Chu] is an international leader in higher education." – President Emeritus Frank H. T. Rhodes

The Cornell Asian Alumni Association had its 20th annual banquet on Jan. 22, 2011 at Grand Harmony Palace restaurant in Chinatown, NYC. Here are the videos that my good friend Chester Mah took of the entertainment and speeches from that fun evening.

The 350 guests who attended the dinner were astounded by a performance of Bian Lian - Chinese Face Changing Dance - by Master Jiao, introduced by Matt Palumbo. Can you count how many times he changed masks?

Did you notice that he also changed his costume? How many times? Here's a closer view that I got with my handheld camera.

I am especially happy to share these videos as I was the honoree at this year's event. Bringing greetings was President Emeritus Frank Rhodes, who was introduced by CAAA President Monica Gelinas.

Martin Tang, a Trustee Emeritus of Cornell and past CAAA honoree, came from Hong Kong to support the banquet. He introduced me ...

... and presented me with CAAA's award.

Here's the video of my remarks, which I entitled Reverence for Education - and Our Educators.

The text of my remarks is in my earlier blog.

Next came a vibrant performance of traditional Korean percussion by the student group Shimtah. This video was posted on YouTube by the group.

It was an absolutely delightful evening. I'm glad we have these videos to remind those of us who were there how much fun it was, and to enable me to share the evening with my family and friends who couldn't be there.

Johnson Dean Joe Thomas, Winston Tom, Frances Wong, President Emeritus Frank Rhodes, Frances Chu, Rod Chu, Monica Gelinas, Matt Palumbo, Cornell V.P. Susan Murphy
Congratulations and thanks to the Cornell Asian Alumni Association President Monica Gelinas, Banquet Co-Chairs Winston Tom & Frances Wong, Matt Palumbo and other committee members, and all my Cornell friends and supporters who made this 20th Anniversary Banquet so memorable.

Thanks to Chester Mah for all his hard work in taking and editing the videos and hundreds of photos! You can see Chester's photos of the evening on his photo website with password = banquet.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Year of the Rabbit

Happy New Year!

Few Chinese Horoscope books contain overall prognostications for the year. In my large collection of these books, one of the few that does is the first edition of Theodora Lau's The Handbook of Chinese Horoscopes, published in 1979. Unfortunately, in the later editions of this book, her overall predictions for each year have been removed.

To provide my friends with this interesting information, here is Ms. Lau's overall forecast for the Year of the Rabbit, plus her predictions for how individuals will fare this year, given the animal that represents their birth year. (To determine what animal you are, see my table of animals for birth dates.)

The Year of the Rabbit – 2/3/2011-1/22/2012

A placid year, very much welcomed and needed after the ferocious year of the Tiger. We should go off to some quiet spot to lick our wounds and get some rest after all the battles of the previous year.

Good taste and refinement will shine on everything and people will acknowledge that persuasion is better than force. A congenial tone in which diplomacy, international relations and politics will be given a front seat again. We will act with discretion and make reasonable concessions without too much difficulty.

A time to watch out that we do not become too indulgent. The influence of the Rabbit tends to spoil those who like too much comfort and thus impair their effectiveness and sense of duty.

Law and order will be lax; rules and regulations will not be rigidly enforced. No one seems very inclined to bother with these unpleasant realities. They are busy enjoying themselves, entertaining others or simply taking it easy. The scene is quiet and calm, even deteriorating to the point of somnolence. We will all have a tendency to put off disagreeable tasks as long as possible.

Money can be made without too much labor. Our life style will be languid and leisurely as we allow ourselves the luxuries we have always craved for. A temperate year with unhurried pace. For once, it may seem possible for us to be carefree and happy without too many annoyances.

How you will fare in the 
Year of the Rabbit

Rat: A calm and quiet year. Still, the Rat must be careful with money. There may be some misunderstandings within his family or at work, but he will make new contacts in business. New members will be added to his family.

Ox: A fair year for the Ox, although he still has many loose ends to tie up and other problems to settle. He could still lose on some investments or fail to collect debts owed to him. His health is protected although he may experience some sorrow at the death of someone close to him. Progress is steady.

TigerA happier year for the Tiger. Some good news is forthcoming and his love and business affairs look rosy again. There are still obstacles in his path, but he will surmount them with little difficulty. All in all, he will be quite content with his achievements.

Rabbit: A very auspicious year for the Rabbit native. Promotions, career advancement or financial success can be foreseen for him and he will reap unexpected benefits or recover lost funds. His plans are easily executed and there may be happy tidings at home or celebrations at the arrival or homecoming of new or old members of the family.

Dragon: Calm returns to the Dragon’s life in the year of the Rabbit. Fair progress can be expected as the winds of fortune blow on his sails again. His home life is more settled, although he could experience minor health problems. A stable time as no financial upsets or bad news await him.

Snake: A fairly happy year for the Snake although many commitments keep him very busy. A year of not being able to spend enough time with those he likes because of fulfilling other promises. Money comes and goes easily.

Horse: A lucky year for the Horse, especially in his investments. His life will be smooth but very involved. He can expect happy news or new members in the family. A protected year in which he can venture anywhere and encounter few problems.

Sheep: A fair year as the Sheep chalks up some gains at work and in his finances. He could also suffer an upheaval at home or some repercussion for past neglect. Health problems are caused by accidental injuries. But he will emerge from all his troubles with more gains than losses.

Monkey: A good year. The Monkey’s prospects are bright again and he will receive help from unlikely people or places. Tranquility is restored at work and home, and business is back to normal although his gains will only be modest. A time for him to seek out new opportunities or make changes in his environment.

Rooster: A fair time for the Rooster if he remains conservative in outlook. Investments this year are shaky and he should not speculate, as loss of money is indicated. He is also prone to miscalculations and his profits may be eaten away by unpredicted expenses. It would be advisable for him to join forces with others this year instead of acting independently.

Dog: A favorable year for the aspirations of the Dog. He can start his own business this year or go into partnership. He will be able to advance his position and can reorganize things for the benefit of others. Problems are solved with a minimum of complications.

Boar: A fair year for the Boar with some modest results. Obstacles still crop up but there will be no major upheavals. He makes some financial gains and is able to consolidate his position to a good degree. Home life is calm and happy. Much entertaining and socializing foreseen.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

"Reverence for Education - and Our Educators"

The Cornell Asian Alumni Association honored me at its 20th Annual Banquet on Saturday, January 22, 2011 in Chinatown, NYC. The following are my remarks to the 350 guests who attended. I've posted the videos of my speech and the evening in another blog.


President Frank Rhodes, thank you for your eloquent, kind, and generous remarks. We are all honored by your presence here this evening, but sorry your lovely wife Rosa couldn’t join us. We wish her a speedy recovery. We are all indebted to you for your outstanding leadership and continued service as Cornell’s 9th and one of its greatest presidents.

Martin Tang, you again have demonstrated your love and commitment to Cornell and your fellow Asian Alumni by flying over from Hong Kong to support this evening’s festivities, and also agreeing to take on the difficult task of finding something nice and impressive to say about me. Thanks for all you’ve done and continue to do for Cornell!


There are so many others here whose presence I should acknowledge. Given the large number, I was tempted not to do so.

I recall the numerous weddings and new baby parties I’ve attended in this and other Chinatown restaurants in which speakers went on and on introducing the attendees. I used to get upset and weary of these long acknowledgements until a speaker explained – in English for the non-Chinese speaking guests – that the reason these acknowledgements are made – as they have been for thousands of years – is that these dignitaries were the legal witnesses of the event, serving the purpose of a being able to attest to it.

So permit me to extend Chinese tradition by acknowledging some of the many notable guests here at this evening‘s 20th Annual Banquet of the Cornell Asian Alumni Association.

Please hold your applause until after I get through them all – or we’ll be here all night!

Cornell Executives:

  • Student Affairs Vice President Susan Murphy
  • Cornell Plantations Director Don and Sue Rakow
  • Cornell Art Museum Director Frank Robinson
  • Industrial & Labor Relations Dean Harry Katz
  • Johnson Dean Joe and Marney Thomas

My family and friends – some who’ve come from afar to be with me on this special evening:

  • My mother, Frances Chu, from Westchester
  • My niece Karen and her husband Gian – both Cornell Class of 1996 – and their children AJ and Alexandra from Boston
  • My longest and dearest friend from our high school years together at the United Nations International School Dr. Michael Richardson, who flew in from Chicago for this evening and his daughter Adassa
  • Johnson School Classmates from class of 1971 – Randy Hatch, Tom Senker, and Jack MacPhail
  • Friends from NYC, NJ, CT, and Westchester, including celebrated WPIX newscaster Kaity Tong, fashion designer Zang Toi, and philanthropists Miranda and Hamburg Tang

The Chancellor of the State University of New York, and my friend and colleague from our years together in Ohio, Nancy Zimpher.

Cornell Trustees: Gene Resnick, Bob Harrison, Marcus Loo, Paul Salvatore, and Sheryl WuDunn

Members of the Cornell University Council’s Administrative Board: Ken Gurrola, Annie Wong, and my fellow vice-chairs Katrina James and Jay Taylor

CAAA President Monica Gelinas, banquet committee co-chairs Winston Tom and Frances Wong, and all the banquet committee members.

All the students who took a break from their studies to come down from Ithaca to be with us this evening.

And finally, CAAA's past honorees: Martin Tang, Sheryl WuDunn, Jane Hyun, and Annie Wong

My apologies to all of you whom I inadvertently failed to mention by name, but thank you all – friends of Cornell and of the Cornell Asian Alumni Association – for coming and making this evening so special!

Thank you also for your support for the idea of a new Pan Asian Garden at the Cornell Plantations. Congratulations to Plantations Director Don Rakow for all you have done to make the Plantations a place that continues to inspire and inform generations of Cornellians and visitors.

Now everyone smile so I can capture this moment for Facebook! If you want to see the photo, please “friend” me on Facebook – look for Roderick Chu.

Reverence for Education

I am especially pleased that Cornell Trustee and past CAAA Honoree Sheryl WuDunn is here this evening with her husband, NY Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. They jointly have won a Pulitzer Prize and the Dayton Literary Peace Prize for Lifetime Achievement.

I follow Nicholas Kristof’s postings on Facebook and was pleased to see his column this week entitled “China’s Winning Schools” because it provided a wonderful backdrop this evening.

In his column, Mr. Kristof explains that 4 of the 5 places in the world with the highest student educational performance in math, science, and reading have a Confucian legacy of reverence for education.

As a College Board Trustee and Chancellor, I’ve seen the results in this country, with students of Asian heritage, on average, outpacing the educational performance of whites and other minorities.

Growing up with a Confucian father and grandfather, I was the beneficiary of my family’s high expectations and sacrifice to provide me the best education I could get.

My mother, of course, joined in those expectations and sacrifices, and has been an exemplary role model of integrity, achievement, and giving. She is our dinner co-chair Frances Wong’s predecessor as a president of the Rotary Club of Chinatown. Among her many notable accomplishments, Mom was one of the first woman Rotary Club presidents in the world – when she was the first Asian woman vice president of Chemical Bank – and continues to serve on her Rotary District’s Foundation Board. And like most moms, she’s also been very proud and encouraging of her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Thanks Mom!

Importance of Education – Our Debts

About 12 years ago, when was to receive my first honorary degree when I was Ohio’s Chancellor, my Mom told my then 99-year-old grandfather that both his grandson (me) and his great-grandson (Karen’s brother) would be receiving doctoral degrees that year. She told me how my grandpa perked up and said (in his native Toi Shan dialect) that he didn’t realize that I had gone back to school. When my Mom told him I hadn’t, he gloomily told her “Oh, that doesn’t count. Those are the kind of degrees they just give away.”

Despite my achievements in private business, in government, and in education, in some ways I had always been a failure in my dear grandpa’s mind because I hadn’t earned a doctoral degree.

I remember how disappointed my father was when I wasn’t admitted to Cornell for my undergraduate studies and so went to a slouch of a school, the University of Michigan, instead. Pop had been admitted to Cornell after returning from his post-World War II U.S. Army assignment in Shanghai, where he met the beautiful young woman who would become my mother. However, as a poor immigrant, even with the GI Bill benefits, he couldn’t afford to attend the school of his dreams and instead enrolled in Hunter College. This is why I am so pleased that CAAA and my family have endowed student scholarships at Cornell for needy students.

I’m glad I was able to get admitted to Cornell for my MBA and experience the wisdom of my father’s dream of getting a Cornell education.

I tell you this story because it says how important our families can be in keeping our egos in check. But also because it demonstrates Nicholas Kristof’s point of how important securing a good education for their kids is and has been to so many Asian families throughout the world.

The sacrifices my parents made afforded me the opportunity to learn from them and from talented faculty and fellow students in some of this country’s finest schools.

That education has served me well and my education has continued throughout my life. I’ve learned how vitally important education is not just for personal success, but also for the vitality of our communities, our nation, and our democratic way of life.

This realization is why I am passionately continuing to seek ways we can better educate all Americans – so we can re-kindle the American Dream that I’ve been so fortunate to have lived. It is why, in these difficult economic times, we must all continue to support our educational institutions and educators while at the same time insist that they reinvent themselves to take on the difficult yet critical task of successfully educating many, many more of our fellow Americans for an ever changing and challenging future.

Learning and Love

It was the German writer Goethe who observed “Everywhere, we learn only from those whom we love.”

So this evening, I am proud to acknowledge my debt to my family and my friends, but especially to my professor, advisor, and friend for 42 years, Joe Thomas, now Dean of Cornell’s Johnson Graduate School of Management, who embodies for me the strength and love that most of us here tonight have for our dear Cornell.

I offer you all my very best wishes for a joyful, healthy, and bounteous Year of the Rabbit. Gung hai fat choy. Sun tai geen hong. Man see yue yee.

Thank you all for this wonderful honor and delightful evening.