Cecilia Chiang probably doesn’t have the name recognition of a lot of chefs and restaurateurs, but the 93-year-old is certainly one of the pioneers of modern California cooking. The long-time owner of the Mandarin restaurant in San Francisco (and, from 1975 to 2007, in Beverly Hills), Chiang was honored last weekend by a culinary who’s who at a tribute dinner during the Pebble Beach Food & Wine festival. Among the speakers were chefs Thomas Keller, Gary Danko, Corey Lee and Daniel Boulud.
The film focuses on Chiang’s all-American tale. Raised in wealth near Shanghai, she fled the armies first of the Japanese during World War II and then of Mao. She immigrated to the United States, arriving in 1960, and after many struggles, opened the Mandarin restaurant, which she ran for many years before selling out to her son Phillip Chang, who opened the Mandarette Café near the Beverly Center and then went on to help found the PF Chang’s restaurant chain.
But that’s a very dry description. With Chiang, the gold is in the details and it’s better to hear it from her own lips. Or in this wonderful profile written by the San Francisco Chronicle's Janny Hu this year.