The James Beard Foundation joins the culinary community in mourning the loss of the legendary Cecilia Chiang, who passed yesterday at the age of 100. Often referred to as the matriarch of Chinese food, Chiang moved from Shanghai to San Francisco in 1960 at the age of 40. Soon after she opened the Mandarin, the influential restaurant that would introduce Americans to dishes that have become staples of Chinese American cuisine, from tea-smoked duck to potstickers (and would delight our namesake upon his first visit, according to Chiang).
Chiang oversaw the Mandarin's day-to-day operations from its opening in 1961 until its sale in 1991, and reflected on her legacy in 2013 when she received the James Beard Lifetime Achievement Award: "I wanted to introduce real Chinese food to America. I feel like I did a great job, and now people know there’s a big difference between chop suey and real Chinese food."
Longtime friend Alice Waters—who has referred to Chiang as the "Julia Child of Chinese food"—described Chiang's impact as even broader: "[she brought] not just the food from China but the whole culture of China—the whole way to serve, the way to be generous with other people at the table, the way that food was considered something very precious and important in everyday life.”
In addition to her 2013 Lifetime Achievement Award, Chiang was the author of two memoirs, and was the subject of a 2014 documentary. She will be deeply missed.