Cecilia Chiang, often referred to as the “mother of Chinese food in America”, died Wednesday in San Francisco at the age of 100.
From pot stickers to hot and sour soup, Chiang revolutionized Chinese food as we know it and has been an influential pillar of the culinary community.
“I said to my sister Sophie, ‘This is Chinese food? ‘She said,’ That’s the only thing you can get, ‘she said in a 2015 interview on one of NBC Bay Area’s Revelations documentaries.
Cecilia Chiang was the matriarch of Chinese food in America. She brought a new sophistication to the kitchen and left the Chop Suey and Chow Mein era behind. Chiang made a name for herself as the owner and restaurateur of the mandarin that was once located in Ghirardelli Square. NBC Bay Area interviewed Chiang on his award-winning documentary series, Bay Area Revelations.
She remembered her less memorable first time eating Chinese food in the States.
Chiang moved to the United States in 1959 to help her sister after her husband died of cancer.
Two years later, Chiang opened the mandarin restaurant on Polk Street.
The restaurant got off to a sluggish start, but after legendary columnist Herb Caen raved about the food in his column, business picked up and stayed that way for years to come.
Chiang eventually moved the restaurant to its iconic location on Ghiradelli Square before it was sold in 1996.
Her son continued the tradition and founded the PF Chang’s restaurant chain.
“I was a young chef at Aqua and Cecilia gave me the seal of approval,” said celebrity chef Michael Mina.
He said Chiang was instrumental in his early success in the industry. While her memory will live on as the pioneering matriarch of Chinese food in America, Mina said what he will miss most is the time they spent together.
“There are certain people when you cook for them, it’s like great music. When you listen and you get this chill on your neck, ”he said. “There are people you cook for and that’s how you feel. I would say Cecilia is at the top of my list. “