Cecilia Chiang, the culinary legend who brought authentic Chinese food to the U.S., has passed away at age 100.
End of an era: Chiang died of natural causes at her home in San Francisco on Wednesday morning, as confirmed by her granddaughter Siena Chiang, the New York Times reported.
- In the early ’60s, she opened her renowned San Francisco restaurant, the Mandarin, where Chinese dishes such as potstickers, hot rice soup, and Chongqing-style spicy dry-shredded beef, and many others, were served to American diners for the first time.
- Chiang’s efforts in introducing a variety of new authentic Chinese food to American taste buds have made her among the most influential figures in Bay Area food culture, according to SF Chronicle.
- Born from an affluent family in Shanghai and raised in a Ming-era palace in Beijing, Chiang brought with her the dishes she was accustomed to growing up.
- The dining style of the affluent society in Beijing is called “Mandarin cooking” and includes local dishes and regional cuisines from Sichuan, Shanghai and Canton.
- “They think chop suey is the only thing we have in China,” she was quoted by NPR as saying. “What a shame.”
Chiang’s journey: Her life’s work, which became an important part of the history of Chinese culture in San Francisco, has been documented in her book “The Seventh Daughter: My Culinary Journey from Beijing to San Francisco” and featured in filmmaker Wayne Wang’s documentary “Soul of a Banquet.”
- Before Chiang’s arrival in the U.S., she fled her home twice due to war and political turmoil.
- In 1937, she and her older sister fled Shanghai to escape the Japanese during World War II and a decade later, Chiang and her family moved to Tokyo during the Chinese Communist Revolution.
- When she ended up in the U.S. in 1959, she was surprised to learn that most Americans considered chop suey to be the epitome of Chinese cuisine.
- Chiang was able to change that a couple of years later with the opening of the Mandarin on Polk Street before moving on to Ghirardelli Square, near Fisherman’s Wharf.
- Through the years, Chiang became highly revered in the food community and was known as the matriarch of Chinese cuisine in America.