The Chinese chef responsible for creating one of the most famous Chinese-American dishes has passed away in Taipei, Taiwan at the age of 98.
Chef Peng Chang-kuei, the founder of Peng’s Garden Hunan Restaurant and the inventor of General Tso’s Chicken, passed away on November 30 after a bout with pneumonia, according to Taiwan News.
Peng, who was originally from Changsha in Hunan Province, began training to be a chef when he was 13 under fellow Hunan chef Cao Jin-chen. Cao was the family chef of Tan Yan-kai, the prime minister of the Nationalist government from 1926 to 1928. After World War II, Peng fled to Taiwan when Kuomintang forces were defeated by the communists in the Chinese Civil War. Peng then resumed work as a chef for the Taiwanese government.
Peng’s world famous dish was created in 1952 when U.S. Admiral Arthur W. Radford visited Taiwan for four days. Over the first three days, Peng had exhausted most of his best dishes and decided to try something new on the fourth day. He chopped up a chicken into large chunks, fried them until they were golden and added an experimental mix of spices and seasonings.
When Admiral Radford tried the dish, he was reportedly so impressed that he asked Peng what it was called. Peng immediately thought of the name General Tso’s Chicken, a homage to the Qing Dynasty general and statesman Tso Tsung-t’ang who was instrumental in defeating the millenarian movement during the Taiping Rebellion in the 1800s. Tso is also known for his contributions to agricultural science and education.
Peng moved to New York City and opened his first restaurant near the United Nations headquarters in 1973. As his restaurant grew in popularity among officials who worked at the UN, including U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Peng’s restaurant began to catch the eyes of the media.
In 1977, the New York Times wrote a review of Peng’s restaurant, including one of the very first accounts of the dish he created over two decades before.
“General Tso’s thicken [sic] was a stir‐fried masterpiece, sizzling hot both in flavor and temperature, and dragon and phoenix was a combination of pearly, dewy fresh lobster chunks on one side of the platter and stir‐fried chicken with peanuts on the other.”
The popularity of the dish soon spread around the world.
Unfortunately, other businessmen who visited Peng’s Taipei restaurant brought the dish to the U.S. to open their own restaurants, eventually pushing Peng out of the market. Peng chose to return to Taipei where his restaurant chain continues to operate.
Image via 1700-talet