It doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from, we all have that favorite dish; that classic family recipe or delicacy of “home” that we hold close to our heart. Here is a story that expands what is possible for all of us as we eat, cook and share our heritage with others: the extraordinary tale of the woman who completely changed the landscape of American food.

The United States has often been called a “melting pot”, and when it comes to food, that is particularly true. If you walk into any major city, you’re sure to find flavors from all corners of the world.

So, to celebrate this beautiful diversity of taste, we’re going to explore how one woman, sharing the dishes she grew up enjoying in China, changed the culture of food in America.

Image: Chinese food on a table

Source: Pixabay

There are a few names that really stand out in the culinary world. Most of us are familiar with Julia Child, who’s famous for bringing authentic French cooking into the United States, but a lesser-known yet equally influential name is Cecilia Chiang.

Born near Shanghai in 1920, Chiang was raised in war-torn China before making her move over to San Francisco. Now, at the age of 98, she continues to be a force of culinary nature! To begin our introduction to this important culinary icon, let’s spend a moment with this wonderful video from Great Big Story.

“I want people to learn from my story.”

Like so many cultural heroes, Cecilia Chiang’s story isn’t exclusively of success. She didn’t grow up in the kitchen or even intend to have a wildly successful restaurant when she came to the United States.

In 2013, Cecilia won the James Beard Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award; one of the most prestigious awards in the culinary world. When she accepted the award Cecilia noted, “I opened the Mandarin with the goal of introducing the American people to real Chinese food, and I have overcome great odds to get where I am today… I am proud of my accomplishments, but also of the struggles I’ve overcome. I want people to learn from my story.” 2

We love knowing the deeper stories of thought leaders, and the James Beard Foundation put together this beautiful tribute to Cecilia Chiang that details a little more of how she became such an influence on the world.

In the words of Alice Waters, “Every time I have a meal with Cecilia I learn something.” Food really is a means of storytelling. It’s a way of communicating that goes beyond any language, touching something deep in our humanity.

28 minutes

We Are What We Eat

What does dinner look like around the globe? Matthieu Paley, a National Geographic Photographer set out to document the culture of food in places untouched by supermarkets...

Read More

It’s so important to recognize these figures that have changed our cultural landscapes. Those people who have opened up the doors of possibility and given us the opportunity to learn more, taste more, and experience the wider world more readily. Their stories, just like our own, are filled with twists, turns, and bumps along the way.

What can you bring to the table?

Stay beautiful & keep laughing!

-Liesl

Want to explore more of what the world is eating?

We’ve looked at a few interesting dishes from places around the world, and collected their stories here. Take a look.

Food on EWC

Have you subscribed yet? It’s the easiest way to stay up to date with our articles here at EWC!

Notes:

  1. “The Woman Who Changed Chinese Cuisine in America.” YouTube, Great Big Story, 30 Apr. 2018, www.youtube.com/watch?v=8oQzaS6-Z3I. Accessed 10 July 2018.
  2. Forbes, Paula. “JBF’s Lifetime Achievement Award Goes to Cecilia Chiang.” Eater, Eater, 28 Jan. 2013, www.eater.com/2013/1/28/6489035/jbfs-lifetime-achievement-award-goes-to-cecilia-chiang. Accessed 11 July 2018.
  3. “The James Beard Foundation’s 2013 Lifetime Achievement Award Winner: Cecilia Chiang.” YouTube, JamesBeardFoundation, 6 May 2013, www.youtube.com/watch?v=4_D45IyF2NU. Accessed 10 July 2018.

Liesl Ulrich-Verderber

COO of Ever Widening Circles, Founder of EWCed

Liesl is a camera-toting traveler, a global story seeker, and an aspiring—but more often floundering—outdoor enthusiast. She can be found on Instagram @Liesl.UV

In this Circle

The Unexpected Ways Surfing is Helping Youth Heal

35 minutes

[ #ConspiracyofGoodness ]

By Liesl Ulrich-Verderber

Life is tough, but it's a whole lot easier when we're around people who share similar experiences in a no pressure environment. Waves for Change is one of the organizations out there harnessing the power of sport and play to create environments where children are able to open up and heal!
Read More

Guerrilla Gardener Takes on South Central LA

15 minutes

[ #ConspiracyofGoodness ]

By Liesl Ulrich-Verderber

Meet Ron Finley; an amazing fellow who's come up with a better idea than battling over turf. How about using "turf" in a very old way! Take a look!
Read More

Why Would One Man Fill 600 Potholes?

5 minutes

[ #ConspiracyofGoodness ]

By Liesl Ulrich-Verderber

Now here's an inspiring story of turning a personal loss into wonderful progress for all! Thousands of people die every year just because of the potholes littering India's roads. And after his own son lost his life, this father became the change the country needs. Just check out the impact he's having...
Read More

Building Futures One Plié at a Time

25 minutes

[ #ConspiracyofGoodness ]

By Liesl Ulrich-Verderber

In a place where violence reigns, girls are finding refuge in a surprising way—and it's all thanks to one amazing woman.
Read More

A Sanctuary for Costa Rica’s Strays

10 minutes

[ #ConspiracyofGoodness ]

By Liesl Ulrich-Verderber

Territorio de Zaguates is providing care to nearly a thousand dogs that have been taken off the streets of Costa Rica. Their story is a testament to the impact the love and determination of one person can have on others.
Read More

Living Beyond Expectations: Daniel Kish

15 minutes

[ #ConspiracyofGoodness ]

By Liesl Ulrich-Verderber

Despite not having eyes, Daniel Kish has taught himself to "see" with a human "eco-location" and he is teaching others. His story is a remarkable testament to what happens when we never get the memo about things that are "impossible" and instead make what we have work for us!
Read More

How Cecilia Chiang Changed Food in America

9 minutes

[ #ConspiracyofGoodness ]

By Liesl Ulrich-Verderber

If you’ve ever enjoyed Chinese food in the United States, like potstickers and Peking duck, then we’d like to introduce you to Cecilia Chiang. She's the "Julia Child" of Chinese cuisine, and the story of how she changed the way Americans eat is as remarkable as her influence!
Read More

Old Cellphones: The Key to Stopping Climate Change

13 minutes

[ #ConspiracyofGoodness ]

By Liesl Ulrich-Verderber

Deforestation causes more emissions than all of the cars and trucks on our planet combined, so what can we do to stop it? Could the unlikely hero in this story be the old cell phone tucked away in your junk drawer? It is! Read on and you'll see problem-solving at its best!
Read More

Our Plastic Waste Problem: It’s Not About Perfection

18 minutes

[ #ConspiracyofGoodness ]

By Liesl Ulrich-Verderber

We all know that plastic waste is a huge problem, but what are we supposed to do about it? Turns out there's a lot we can do with just a few little changes!
Read More