'Accidental' chefs make top 100 list in San Francisco

Updated: 2013-08-23 14:26

By Chen Jia in San Francisco (China Daily)

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Three Chinese restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area are among the top 100 best restaurants ranked by local dining critic Michael Bauer.

And two of them - Yank Sing and Mission Chinese Food - are run by what he describes as "accidental restaurateurs".

Located on the Spear Street in San Francisco's financial district, Yank Sing was opened in 1958 by Alice Chan, who immigrated to the US from Hong Kong.

"My mother never worked a day in her life, but because of economic conditions, she had to take a job as a dim sum chef in the US," said Henry Chan, Alice's son and president of Yank Sing. "Two years later, my father and mother decided to open their own restaurant." Dim sum goes back a thousand years to the Song Dynasty, he explained. Canton has always been known to have the best dim sum in the world, and Yank Sing is the Asian name for Canton.

It was never Henry Chan's goal to run a restaurant, but when his mother died in 1981 at the age of 59, he felt obliged to leave medical school - three months before graduation - and take over the family business.

"There are certain skills that take years of practice to do really right. Your hands need to coordinate with your mind," said Henry's daughter Vera Chan Waller, who is also part of the family business today.

Yank Sing does everything it can to fight against the stereotypical image of Chinese restaurants as having cheap prices, dim lighting, waiters taking orders in poor English and bringing back dishes loaded with MSG.

"I heard this place was expensive, like $25 per person," a customer named Veronica said. "There's no price listed, so I just trusted what I heard. But I was wrong. I somehow ate twice that amount. But I come back again and again."

Another shining star on Michael Bauer's list is Danny Bowien at Mission Chinese Food in San Francisco (and New York), though some might argue that he's not cooking "real Chinese" when he creates such dishes as kung pao pastrami.

"I personally like his interpretation," Bauer commented on a local website. "He makes relevant what has largely become tired and uninspired. He came to cook Chinese food after many late nights eating it after his work shift at high end Western places. So in that regard, he too became an accidental Chinese cook."

Some American critics have said that Chinese food hasn't kept pace with what's been happening in other cuisines in America in recent years and warned that really good Chinese food in the US faces extinction.

"There are actually a number of good to fantastic executive Chinese chefs in the SF Bay Area or at least capable of a high level of cooking, scattered all over and doing many wonderful things," said an insider who declined to be named, adding that some chefs are obscure but revered in their Chinese communities and they are not out to seek glory or the praise of the Western media, and they have no interest in the title of "celebrity chef".


(China Daily USA 08/23/2013 page11)