Local legend Cecilia Chiang, who at 93 remains a spritely and sociable presence at restaurant openings and food events throughout the year (see her pictured at b. patisserie's preview event here), will be honored with a lifetime achievement prize at the 2013 James Beard Foundation Awards in New York. Chiang is credited with having widely influenced the way Americans perceive Chinese cuisine, via her upscale restaurant The Mandarin which opened at Ghirardelli Square in 1968. As critic Patricia Unterman once wrote, "[Chiang] was the first to offer many of the rich and spicy dishes of Szechuan and Hunan provinces ... the garlicky, chili-infused sauces offered new taste sensations for Westerners used to adulterated Cantonese cooking." And as JBF president Susan Ungaro said today, on announcing the award, "Cecilia elevated Chinese cuisine far beyond the takeout box. She completely embodies the spirit of this award.
The Mandarin closed in 2006, but you can get to know Chiang via her two memoirs, The Mandarin Way (1974) and The Seventh Daughter (2008). She's credited with having taught Szechuan cooking to James Beard, herself, and he was a personal friend.
Chiang's son Philip went on to become a co-founder of the chain P.F. Chang's.
The awards ceremony happens at Lincoln Center on May 3 and 6. The "long list" of semi-finalists in the chef and restaurant categories are due to be announced in a couple of weeks, with the list of finalists, or nominees, to come in mid-March.
Awards Watch: Cecilia Chiang to Recieve 2013 Lifetime Achievement Award [JBF Blog]
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Cecilia Chiang Offers Longevity Advice