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Fu Pei Mei---Tribute to a Recipe Master
Fall Volume: 2005 Issue: 12(3) page(s): 31 and 35
A wonderful and prolific cookbook author, TV cooking show hostess, cooking school teacher, and someone in Taiwan whose cookbooks were considered an important part of a bride-to-be’s dowry, died last September 16, 2004. We featured her in Volume 9(4) on page 9 in an article titled: Prolific and Terrific: Fu Pei Mei.
This lady who became a culinary master was called, by chef Horng, the Julia Child of dumplings and roast duck. But she was so much more, as that earlier tribute indicated. Born in Dailian, in the northeast of China, she spent her first nineteen years there. That was during the Japanese occupation. Then, she went to Manchuria to a Japanese girl’s school, and on to the National Girl’s Normal University in Beijing. After that, she moved to Taiwan, specifically to Taipei. She married there, and her culinary career was born. It was after her marriage that she learned to cook. Thereafter, hers was a long career, spanning four decades on TV, alone.
During her lifetime, she hosted a cooking program that was Taiwan’s most popular on television. It began in 1962, went on to be syndicated, and continued for one year shy of forty years. As its hostess, she introduced more than four thousand different Chinese dishes, most she developed and demonstrated. She was so popular that the Taiwan Television Enterprise (TTV) programs expanded and developed a world-wide audience. Many were first exported to Japan and Singapore, also to the Philippines, other Southeast Asian countries, and to the United States.
Mrs. Fu was often invited to demonstrate in Japan. There she appear on Japanese TV (NHK), her fluency in Japanese a clear asset. She also taught in other countries, mostly in Chinese. Her English-language programs were assisted by an interpreter and/or her daughter; and it was on one of these that we first saw and admired her.
Fu Pei Mei’s cooking classes attracted housewives and brides-to-be by the score, particularly during 1970 - 1990, the height of her popularity. On and off the air, she promoted Chinese cooking. She assisted food companies and the airlines to improve their food, and for them and everyone, she was concerned with the taste, texture, and presentation of Chinese food.
Many called her an ambassador of Taiwanese cooking and culture. This was a far cry from the first job she had working at a trading company, or another when she appeared on TV promoting electric appliances for the home.
Fu Pei Mei had three children, two girls and a boy. One of her daughters, and sometimes her daughter-in-law, assisted her on TV in her later years. They were co-authors of a few of her many cookbooks, some of the cooking card sets she put out, and one or the other might join her at her lectures and other appearances.
However, Fu Pei Mei wrote most of her cookbooks alone. She revised her phenomenally successful first one, called Pei Mei’s Chinese Cookbook, many times. It started out self-published, and later was done by a commercial publisher. This book later became Volume I, and there was a Pei Mei’s Cookbook Volume II, and a Volume III. In addition, she produced cookery cards and specific holiday volumes, cooperated with other authors, and helped many put out their own cookbooks. Her books, with each revision, became more sophisticated. Every edition had a full-color picture, at least half page in size, of each completed recipe. So through words and illustrations, hundreds of thousands--first in Taiwan and then everywhere, could read and follow her recipes and make their efforts match those of this talented self-taught teacher.
Many have cooked from her books done solo, and more recently, others have used those written with her daughter, Angela Cheng. Mrs. Cheng, whether writing with her mother or alone, spells her name several ways including Cheng An Qi, Cheng An Chi, and in English she is known as Angela Cheng. Those written with Theresa H. Lin are those done with her daughter-in-law. Most books were originally published in Taiwan, a few published first in Hong Kong or Singapore. The Chinese cookbook collection donated to Stony Brook University's Special Collections has nearly two dozen of them written alone or with others.
Fu Pei Mei died at age seventy three of cancer and she will sorely be missed. The world has lost a terrific educator and encourager of fine Chinese food. Taiwan has lost a great culinary and cultural ambassador. Her family has lost a mother and grandmother.
Three of her books were illustrated in the hard copy of this issue; they are but a small number of the fifty or so she wrote. Of the total, half are only in Chinese, most others are bilingual. The latest editions of these three have not only a picture of the finished dish, but several others of steps in the process of making it. If you own or purchase them, or saw or get to see any of her TV re-runs of what was a Sunday afternoon ritual watching Fu Pei Mei, you know the talents of this terrific culinary artist. You have seen and hopefully savored the fine and varied Chinese food she touted from all of China’s provinces and the countries her compatriots now live in. If you have not, we suggest you honor her memory, by doing so soon; and by buying one or more of her phenomenal cookbooks.