Last Sunday I had the honor of attending Cecilia Chang’s 90th birthday party. It was a party worthy of someone celebrating 90 years. Chefs and food people from all over the Bay Area were there to help her celebrate. Cecilia is not only a feisty vibrant woman but a culinary icon. I would be content if I could emulate just a bit of what she has accomplished in her life.
Cecilia was the owner of The Mandarin Restaurant. It was THE Chinese restaurant in San Francisco for decades. Anyone who was anyone used to go there to eat but Cecilia was also just as gracious to the average person who dined there. She introduced Americans to authentic Chinese food. Born in Beijing and escaping just before the Communist takeover in 1949, Cecilia has had a fascinating life. If you want to learn more about her (and find recipes to make some of her favorite dishes) pick up the book The Seventh Daughter that Cecilia wrote with Lisa Weiss about her life.
The food at the party was prepared by Betelnut Chefs, Alex Ong, Michael Siegel, Leland Cheung, & Meena Reisetta, The Door Chef Daniel Sudar , and South Legend Chef Bill He. They are all masters. Here’s the feast we had:
Dry-Farmed Early Girl Tomatoes with Paneer & Xi’an Black Vinegar
Local Albacore Sashimi with Ponzu, Arare & Chile D’Arbol
Smoked Duck Breast with Peachy Pepper Jam
Ya Li Asian Pear Kimchi and Sea Salt
Spicy Pork Dumplings
Crispy Cauliflower, Tribal Salt, and Chile Pepper
Turmeric Braised Goat Belly with Jalapeno Vinegar & Lime
Petite Portobello Mushroom “Char Siu” Buns
Aceh Vegetable Salad with Emping & Spicy Palm Sugar Coconut Dressing
Mizuna and Asian Pear Salad with Shaved Fennel and Toasted Marcona Almonds
Whole Roasted Pig with Anise-Chile Broth
South Legend Spicy Sichuan Lamb
Cha Ca La Vong—Turmeric Sea Bass with Herbs, Chilies, Rice Noodles & Peanuts
As you can tell from the menu, the buffet was extensive. The chefs would constantly bring out new dishes so we never let the table out of our sight for fear of missing a dish. I made sure I ate everything.
Cecilia loves chocolate so Elizabeth Falkner and I made chocolate cupcakes. My sister, Anne Underhill, is an archaeologist who specializes in the Chinese Neolithic Period. She and one of her Chinese grad students sent me a pdf file of the Chinese character for long life. In red colored white chocolate we drew this character on thin pieces of tempered chocolate and placed them into the cupcakes. It was a pretty cool to see 150 cupcakes all wishing long life.