GENERAL TSO’S CREATOR. In this undated photo, chef Peng Chang-kuei,
right, cooks in his restaurant, Peng’s Garden, in Taipei, Taiwan. Chef
Peng, who has been credited with inventing General Tso’s chicken, the
sticky, sweet-and-sour dish brought to New York 40 years ago, has died
at age 98. (Yung-Chuan Hou/United Daily News/World Journal via AP)
From The Asian Reporter, V26, #24 (December 19, 2016), page 7.
Chef credited with inventing General Tso’s Chicken
By Verena Dobnik
The Associated Press
NEW YORK — The chef credited with inventing General Tso’s Chicken, a
world-famous Chinese dish smothered in a sweet sauce that was never a
staple in China, has died in Taiwan at age 98.
Peng Chang-kuei died of pneumonia in Taipei, his son, Chuck Peng,
told The Associated Press. He was still cooking in the family’s Taipei
restaurant kitchen just a few months ago.
Peng first brought the sticky, sweet, and spicy dish to New York
about 40 years ago.
It’s now on Chinese restaurant menus across the United States,
exploding in popularity after President Nixon visited China in 1972. The
dish also reportedly became a favorite of famed statesman Henry
Kissinger, who with Nixon helped open the communist country to the west,
spotlighting its culture and food.
But General Tso’s chicken was never part of the Chinese culinary
The chef created the dish in the 1950s in Taiwan, where he fled in
1949 with Chiang Kai-shek after the communists took over, said Chuck
Peng, speaking from his home in Taipei.
In Taiwan, the chef helped welcome the commander of the U.S. Navy’s
7th Fleet in the Pacific with a banquet that included the new culinary
creation named after a 19th-century Chinese military leader from Peng’s
native Hunan province.
By the 1970s, he was in New York running a restaurant named after
himself near the United Nations on Manhattan’s East Side. Kissinger was
a frequent guest, said Chuck Peng.
"General Tso’s Chicken is so famous because of Henry Kissinger,
because he was among the first to eat it, and he liked it, so others
followed," said Peng.
Americans quickly took to what is now a mound of deep-fried chunks of
floured chicken, smothered in sweetness that usually includes soy sauce,
sugar, ginger, and other spices.
In the dish’s first incarnation, the chicken reportedly was not
fried, and its unsweetened flavor came from garlic, soy sauce, and
The story of the delicacy is told in a 2014 documentary called The
Search for General Tso, which traces the roots of Chinese food in
America through the iconic dish.
"The march of General Tso’s chicken has been long and wide," said
Jennifer 8. Lee, author of The Fortune Cookie Chronicles. "It’s
the most popular of Chinese dishes in America, because it is sweet,
fried, and chicken — all things Americans love. It is easily a billion
dollar industry in and of itself."
Lee also worked as a producer on The Search for General Tso.
Chuck Peng runs the family’s chain of 10 restaurants in Taiwan, all
Until he was hospitalized a few months ago, his son said Peng was a
daily presence at their flagship Taipei restaurant which opened after
the chef left New York in 1983. The restaurant space on East 44th Street
was later occupied by a steakhouse that also is gone.
"My father thought other people’s cooking was no good," his son said,
chuckling. "The way he cooked was different, it was much better."
While he was "very good to other people, he was very hard on his
family" — seven children from three mothers. "He was very demanding, he
didn’t want us to make any mistakes."
Read the current issue of The Asian Reporter in
Go to <www.asianreporter.com/completepaper.htm>!