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Prolific and Terrific Fu Pei Mei

by Jacqueline M. Newman

People

Fall Volume: 2002 Issue: 9(4) page(s): 9


Fu Pei-Mei, the most famous and distinguished culinary artist in Taiwan has been teaching Chinese cooking for forty-five years. In 1957, she started Pei-Mei's Chinese Cooking Institute. That long established school was very popular and continued until 1995. The Taiwan Television Company (TTV) saw her success and in 1962, put her on TV hosting a weekly cooking program. With a loyal and growing audience, in 1986 it became a daily program. That ran until 1992 and was the longest running TV program in Taiwan. That was quite a feat but not enough for this super energetic woman, so from 1977 to 1983 she also demonstrated cooking in Japan for the Fuji Television Company. The same year she began on TV, Mrs. Fu was writing her first cookbook. It was called the Pei-Mei Chinese Cookbook. You may know it by that name with or without the added, Volume I. Later editions added that when Volume II and Volume III followed. Her books were many people’s foray into Chinese cooking, her recipes were their culinary mantra. Her recipes were wonderful taste treats and explorations into Chinese cuisine using what was then considered less common ingredients. Using her books, people learned use of the cleaver, that the degree of heat is always critical, and that thickness and ingredient size contribute to texture, taste, and visual delight.

Fu Pei Mei developed a following in many countries. Her first volume’s recipes were organized by China’s North, East, South, and West and were for many, an introduction into China’s massive repertoire of recipes from all corners of the country. People were wowed by the second volume’s eleven main ingredient sections and entranced by her third book which introduced them to formal dinner menus with banquets from 'Kiang-Che, Canton, Szu-Chuan, Pei-Ping, Hu-Nam, Fu-Kien, Taiwan,' and there were vegetarian and other buffet foods. The spellings just given are those used in this third volume.

Born in Shandung Province’s Fushan County, Fu Pei-Mei studied at a Japanese girls school in Manchuria during the Second World War and after V-J Day went on to Beijing to the National Girl’s Normal University. After moving to Taiwan, she married and raised three children, two girls and a boy and began a career as a prolific and terrific author, TV personality, and more. To date, Fu Pei-Mei has published forty-eight cookbooks, twenty-five in Chinese, nineteen in Chinese and English, and the others in Chinese and another language. Each has been phenomenal and a success, and each has promoted Chinese culinary art.

People who read her cookbooks and/or watched her daily and Sunday afternoon TV programs learned and tasted the breadth of Chinese cuisine. Many recall that her earliest book was one of the first to have a full color picture of the finished dish. Later reprints also had color pictures of the steps in the process. Following her recipes was easy, instructions were clear and concise. Tasting one’s own efforts replicatind her dishes made for a terrific meal.

Through TV programs, guest appearances, and the Pei-Mei Chinese Cooking Institute classes held at her home and then elsewhere, during government sponsored courses and invited lectures and demonstrations abroad, her tutelage educated countless numbers about Chinese cuisine. She was and is 'Pei-Mei the Great' to many Chinese cooking officianados. Because of her success in every one of these venues, Fu Pei-Mei received many awards, many of them from many different countries, associations, and governments.

These recognitions brought her to the attention of many organizations as special advisor. In 1973, China Airlines invited her to be just that, a special advisor to improve the food on its overseas flights. She served on committees to select chefs for employment abroad, judged amateur and professional cookery contests, and video-taped explanations and popular dishes in Taiwan.

Beside teaching, she was aware of the needs of the food industry. She sees a need to modernize but not a need to produce foods with less flavor. In 1983, she developed a team that is available to work with food processing facilities that can meet the needs of today’s Chinese and Western consumers. This group, under her leadership, developed various kinds of foods and sauces that will be great in cans and air-tight packages. Overall, they also upgraded frozen foods.

She still works for a big food company in Taiwan helping them improve the taste of even more frozen foods. She hopes her efforts will make delicious Chinese dishes that can go into many family homes to be prepared easily and often. She is also working for a Japanese restaurant group called Ringerhut that has more than four hundred restaurants in Japan.

Fu Pei-Mei still attends food and food culture meetings and expositions. She is still seen on TV and still publishes cookbooks. Since her first cookbook, Pei-Mei Chinese Cookbook Volume I, she has published those forty-eight cookbooks and been on TV more times than she wishes to count. She is still Taiwan’s best ambassador of China’s culinary, still helping people and companies produce the best Chinese fare possible, and still inspiring thousands to cook great authentic Chinese food.

Her daughters are following in their illustrious mother’s footsteps. You can find them on TV doing a mother-daughter cooking show. Her recent books are also family affairs. Most of them are co-authored with one daughter Angela. Cheng An-Chi is this daughter’s Chinese name.

We salute this prolific and terrific great lady. Her vision coupled with her culinary expertise and her well-developed taste buds have made us all better Chinese cooks. We hope that she and her progeny continue these great decades of writing and speaking about Chinese cuisine. May she and her children continue to keep us focused on really fine Chinese food.

                                                                                                                                                       
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