At this year’s Pebble Beach Food & Wine, which kicks off on Thursday, April 4, there’s going to be an extra-special tribute dinner on Friday honoring Cecilia Chiang, who’s also getting a Lifetime Achievement Award at this year’s James Beard Awards. Chiang turns 93 this year, and she first came to San Francisco in 1960. She tells the story in this video — with the help of friends Thomas Keller, Gary Danko, and Corey Lee — of how she opened her first restaurant totally by accident. She put down $10,000 on a restaurant lease on Polk Street for two friends from Tokyo, because they thought her English was slightly better and she’d be a better negotiator. When the friends backed out and the landlord refused to refund her money, she was stuck with the restaurant, and she decided it was time to introduce America to the "real" Chinese food of the Szechuan and Hunan provinces.
Ultimately, in 1968, she relocated to Ghirardelli Square with The Mandarin, which was the first high-end, luxury Chinese restaurant in U.S. She sold it in 1991, and it finally closed in 2006. Her son Philip went on to open a sister Mandarin in Beverly Hills, and to found the P.F. Chang’s chain.
But you can hear her tell her story in this very pretty promo video. If you’d like to attend the dinner, with courses cooked by Daniel Boulud, Tyler Florence, and Nancy Oakes, paired with Roderer champagnes, it will run you a cool $1,250 per person.