SAN FRANCISCO—Bay area and Chinese culinary figure Cecilia Chiang passed away on Wednesday, October 28 inside her San Francisco home. She died of natural causes according to a statement made by her granddaughter Siena Chiang. She was 100 years old.
Chiang rose to fame in 1963 with the growing popularity of her first restaurant in San Francisco, The Mandarin. Originally one of three partners in The Mandarin’s formation, Chiang supplied the monetary means for the restaurant and found herself the unexpected sole owner when all additional parties left the business. She did not cook, but organized the staff and dishes for The Mandarin in a way no previous Chinese Restaurant in America had prior. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, “she was responsible for introducing Americans to now-ubiquitous Chinese dishes like potstickers, hot-and-sour soup and tea-smoked duck.”
Chiang was raised in a wealthy family whose Beijing mansion became the inspiration for the décor in The Mandarin. The upscale restaurant moved from its 65 seat location on Polk Street to a space on Ghirardelli Square with room for 300 in 1968. According to the New York Times, rock band Jefferson Airplane and famous San Francisco journalist Herb Caen were frequent diners. Caen reportedly frequented The Mandarin and contributed largely to its success.
Chiang was forced to flee Beijing with a sibling and move to the region of Chongqing during the Japanese occupation of China in 1942. She met former economics professor Chiang Liang and they married. In 1960 while she was visiting her sister in San Francisco, she met two friends with intentions to open a restaurant. Chiang was determined to create success for the space when the friends dropped out despite no prior experience running a business.
She sold the Mandarin in 1991 and it closed in 2006. She published several books including “The Mandarin Way,” “Madame Chiang’s Mandarin Recipe Book,” and “The Seventh Daughter: My Culinary Journey from Beijing to San Francisco.” A documentary about her life called “Soul of a Banquet” was directed by Wayne Wang was released in 2014.