At 96, a leg­endary chef can still in­spire ‘the best’ Chi­nese food

China Daily (Canada) - - ACROSSAMERICA - By CHEN JIA in San Fran­cisco chen­jia@chi­nadai­

In 1979, Time mag­a­zine wrote ar­ti­cles about two leg­endary Chi­nese fig­ures: one was politi­cian and re­form leader Deng Xiaop­ing; the other was a chef who moved from the Chi­nese main­land to the United States — Henry Chung.

To­day, Henry’s Hu­nan Restau­rant is still a must-stop for Western tourists in San Fran­cisco Chi­na­town and a pop­u­lar choice for din­ers who work near the fi­nan­cial district.

Faced with com­pe­ti­tion from the hearty Can­tonese fare of other restaurants in Chi­na­town, Henry’s Hu­nan keeps at­tract­ing Amer­i­cans through the spe­cial tastes of his dishes.

Chung, now 96, told China Daily he has never felt ashamed to ad­mit that he used to be a diplo­mat.

“The turn­ing point of my life hap­pened af­ter the then Pres­i­dent Nixon’s China visit,” Chung re­called.

“Thanks to warm­ing diplo­matic re­la­tions be­tween two


en I was busy with our busi­ness on the is­land of Guam in 1976, news­pa­pers brought the great news that Nixon vis­ited China and diplo­matic re­la­tions be­tween two coun­tries would start a new chap­ter.” HENRY CHUNG OWNER AND CHEF OF HU­NAN RESTAU­RANT IN SAN FRAN­CISCO, CA

coun­tries, Amer­i­cans be­came more fa­mil­iar and cu­ri­ous about Chi­nese cul­ture and food,” he said.

Born in 1918, Chung grew up in a Chi­nese fam­ily with a lit­er­ary rep­u­ta­tion. His grand­fa­ther was a pi­o­neer­ing ed­u­ca­tor in Hu­nan prov­ince.

In 1938, Chung en­rolled in Na­tional Cen­tral Univer­sity and stud­ied English for two years be­fore trans­fer­ring to the his­tory depart­ment.

Af­ter grad­u­a­tion, he be­came a diplo­mat and in 1945 trav­eled to Ja­pan as a mem­ber of a mil­i­tary del­e­ga­tion.

Chung and his wife Diana came to the US in 1948 when he was posted as coun­sel in Hous­ton.

How­ever, his diplo­matic ca­reer lasted only a few months, as po­lit­i­cal trou­bles in China cut off his in­come. His wife per­suaded him to quit the job and start their own busi­ness in the US.

From Hous­ton to San Fran­cisco, the cou­ple strug­gled run­ning an ice cream booth, ham­burger joint, shoe re­pair shop, toy store, laun­dry and a cafe.

“When I was busy with our busi­ness on the is­land of Guam in 1976, news­pa­pers brought the great news that Nixon vis­ited China and diplo­matic re­la­tions be­tween two coun­tries would start a new chap­ter,” Chung said.

“My wife’s first re­ac­tion was that we should open a Chi­nese restau­rant to pro­mote our home­town-style cui­sine in the US,” he said.

In 1974, the cou­ple opened their first Hu­nan Restau­rant on San Fran­cisco’s Kearny Street. To­day, din­ers have three more lo­ca­tions to choose from in San Fran­cisco, on San­some Street, Natoma Street and Sacra­mento Street.

Prized for its sim­ple yet fla­vor­ful dishes, Hu­nan Restau­rant has gar­nered praise from crit­ics at distin­guished pub­li­ca­tions such as The New Yorker, which said sim­ply: “Hu­nan Restau­rant is the best Chi­nese restau­rant in the world.”

In 1980s, Chung was named one of the Four Fa­mous Chefs in the world by the World As­so­ci­a­tion of Chefs So­ci­ety, join­ing one French chef, one Ital­ian and the chef at the White House. His chain of restaurants quickly grew to seven.

Af­ter re­tir­ing, Chung do­nated two pri­mary schools and one mid­dle school to his home­town in Hu­nan prov­ince.

“I haven’t been back to China since 2009 be­cause of health is­sues,” he said, “but I al­ways walk on San Fran­cisco’s China Beach and look in the di­rec­tion of my home­town.”


Henry Chung made a key­note ad­dress as the hon­orary chair­man of the Hu­nan As­so­ci­a­tion of Amer­ica at a sym­po­sium on April 1 held at the Con­sulate Gen­eral of China in San Fran­cisco on Ho Feng-shan, a diplo­mat who helped Jews es­cape the Holo­caust.


Liu Xiaoguang, con­sul in charge of eco­nomic and commercial af­fairs at the Con­sulate Gen­eral of the People’s Repub­lic of China in New York, giv­ing re­marks at the 2014 US-China In­vest­ment Fo­rum held in New York on Wed­nes­day.

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