Chinese chef Peng Chang-kuei's death announced

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Saturday, December 3, 2016

A plate of the famous dish.
Image: Evan Joshua Swigart.

Peng Chang-kuei, a Chinese-born chef credited with creating the internationally popular dish General Tso's chicken, was yesterday announced to have died by his son.

Chuck Peng told The Associated Press his father died of pneumonia in Taipei, Taiwan on Wednesday. The chef fled China to Taiwan in 1949 and invented the dish shortly thereafter. In the 1970s Peng opened a New York restaurant, which he claimed was a regular haunt of Henry Kissinger. Peng credited Kissinger with the dish's popularity.

Peng conceived the famed dish, which is unknown in China, as unfried. Garlic and soy sauce provided flavour, as did chillies. Today the chicken is served across the US as fried chicken in a sweet, sticky sauce. The chillies remain, with broccoli also appearing. Peng named it after Zuo Zongtang from his native Hunan Province; Zongtang assisted in suppressing the 19th-century Taiping Rebellion.

Peng said the meal was invented for a US admiral visiting Taiwan. Over three days, Peng was contracted to produce several banquets, with not one repeated dish. After exhausting traditional chicken dishes Peng said he created what became General Tso's chicken as an experiment.

In later years he ran Peng's, a chain of Taiwanese restaurants. General Tso's chicken also remained popular across the US. His son claimed he remained working in the kitchen until a few months before his death, at 97. In a documentary two years ago, shown photos of General Tso's chicken served in the US in modern times, he remarked "This is all crazy nonsense."

Running away from his farming family in Changsha, Peng trained under Cao Jingchen. He fled communist rule that followed the 1930s Japanese invasion. He fathered seven children, six of whom remain alive, from three marriages. Chuck Peng described his father as "very good to other people, [but] very hard on his family." Peng Jr. spoke of a "very demanding" man who "thought other people's cooking was no good."

Two years ago the Taipei City Government awarded Peng an Outstanding Citizen award. Peng, then 95 and unstable, collected the award in person and delivered a speech in Mandarin Chinese.

Sources

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