Cecilia Chiang: Mandarin Mother

18 Feb 2014
< 1 min read
The chef and restaurateur who brought Chinese food to American tables talks food, fashion and Jack Nicholson, brought to FOUR by Nowness…

At 94 years old, Cecilia Chiang’s reputation as a legendary hostess still rings true. Over afternoon dim sum at San Francisco’s Yank Sing, the matriarch of Chinese cuisine in America pours champagne and servesxiao long baosoup dumplings for guests. “Be happy. Be busy,” says Chiang, who last year was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the James Beard Foundation and taught both Julia Child and Alice Waters of Chez Panisse. “Cecilia brought Chinese cuisine into our culture the same way that Julia Child did with French cooking,” says Waters. “Always using real ingredients and respecting tradition but translating the cuisine for an entirely new audience. Cecilia has been one of the greatest mentors and friends of my lifetime.” In today’s film by director Nick Walker, whose recent music promos includeHanni El Khatib, Chiang is captured in one of her signature dresses, in the style of the traditional Chinesecheongsam. Moving to San Francisco in 1959, Chiang soon opened the Mandarin, her flagship restaurant that attracted the 1960s glitterati, counting Woody Allen, Warren Beatty and Jack Nicholson as regulars. “Jack was always very fun,” says Chiang, who introduced America to her own innovative updates of previously unheard of Chinese dishes, such as smoked tea duck, minced squab in lettuce cups and sizzling rice soup. “And he was a big tipper.”