Saturday, December 3, 2016

Inventor of General Tso's Chicken Dies at 98

By Howard Portnoy

Image: Wikimedia Commons
The general is dead. Long live the general.

Actually, the general is fine, alive and kicking. It’s the chef and restaurant owner who conceived of the popular dish who has died.

From Tawain News comes word that “Peng Chang-kuei (彭長貴), the founder of the famous Hunan-style restaurant chain Peng's Garden Hunan Restaurant (彭園湘菜館) and inventor of the world famous Chinese dish General Tso's Chicken, died on Nov. 30 at the age of 98 from Pneumonia.” 

A native of Changsha, Hunan Province, Peng began training at the age of 13 under the tutelage of the famous Hunan chef Cao Jing-chen (曹藎臣), who was the family chef of Tan Yan-kai (譚延闓), the prime minister of the Nationalist government from 1926 to 1928. After WWII, he was put in charge of running Nationalist government banquets, and in 1949 he fled to Taiwan after the Kuomintang's forces were defeated by the communists in the Chinese Civil War.

According to an interview with the China Times, Peng says that his most famous dish was created in 1952 during a four-day visit by U.S. Seventh Fleet commander Admiral Arthur W. Radford. After three days, he had served the guests most of his repertoire of dishes, so to try and mix things up a bit, he decided to chop some chicken into big chunks, fry it to a golden hue and then added a different combination of sauce and seasoning to create a new dish.

The admiral was so impressed with the dish that he asked Peng what it was called, he thought quickly on his feet and said "General Tso's Chicken" (左宗棠雞).

And there you have it … well almost. Apparently, there is some dispute over the origins of the dish, which New York's Shun Lee Palace also lays claim to having first served the dish. According to the 2008 book “The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food,”book by the memorably named Jennifer “8.” Lee, General Tso's chicken was invented by a Chinese immigrant chef named T. T. Wang in 1972. Shun Lee’s two restaurants were reportedly the first in the U.S. to serve the dish.

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