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Wonona Zaijian

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Personal Perspectives

Summer Volume: 2008 Issue: 15(2) page(s): 6

With sadness, this issue reports the passing of Wonona Wong Chang. This unique, charming, culinary genius, and absolutely wonderful Indonesian-Chinese lady served as test kitchen director, associate editor, friend, and expert on things artistic and Chinese. Quiet and efficient and unbelievably effective, she advised, wrote cookbooks, and worked with her husband and others to initiate the Institute for the Advancement of the Science and Art of Chinese Cuisine (ISACC), the sponsors of this magazine.

With Irving Beilin Chang, and others who were more tasters then testers, Wonona worked on a phenomenally detailed and delicious cookery book titled: The Encyclopedia of Chinese Food and Cooking. She also worked on many other books, articles, lectures, and behind the scenes events. In all of them, she shared her expertise in things culinary and her phenomenal sense of taste. Years after we met, I learned she had attended a school on whose board I had served long after she was a student there. It was the Hong Kong True Light School. She told me they stimulated her artistic endeavors, including things culinary.

The youngest of four children, Wonona celebrated her eighty-fourth birthday last year, fifty-seven years after she came to the United States in 1950. Once here, she attended Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey. In the United States and in Hong Kong, and probably in Indonesia, too, Wonona did many things. She sang solo and in concerts at both schools sharing her terrific voice and delightful personality. She also recorded an album titled 'Chinese Art Songs' with one of her very dear friends, Anna Mi Lee; it is an outstanding album!

In 1970, Wonona collaborated with husband and two friends and published their first cookbook, the Encyclopedia mentioned above. In 1973, she and they published another called: Northern Chinese Cookbook. In 1986, there was yet another on a topic just becoming well known in the United States. That book was titled: Chinese Dessert, Dim Sum & Snack Cookbook. Each of these books were, in many ways, ahead of their time. They were successful and taught many different and delicious tastes and techniques about fine Chinese food. Wonona also published many articles including those in Flavor and Fortune. She gave many lectures, taught many classes, and shared many delicious Chinese recipes and dishes with ever so many people.

Wonona spoke about and wrote about Chinese food and published Chinese cookery books long before foods of this fantastic cuisine really became popular in the United States. She taught the joys of making, tasting, and savoring fine Chinese food. She educated many about usual and unusual Chinese recipes, their origins, and their techniques. Wonona’s sense of art, taste, and culture were phenomenal, and I was one of hundreds if not thousands that benefitted from the talents she so generously shared. She was a treasured teacher and a terrific lady; and the legions who benefitted from her books and her background will long remember her, and miss her. Wonona was a great cook, a great teacher, and a terrific lady. Joining her husband, children, and grandchildren, together we say ‘Wonona zaijian, peace be with you.’

This magazine’s Assistant Editor remembers meeting Wonona for the first time at a lunch room buffet at Queens College at the 1994 conference called the Chinese Cuisine and the American Palate, was sponsored in part by this magazine. He says that he, “Harley Spiller from Buffalo, wanted to meet the many luminaries in the world of Chinese cuisine who were there.” He recounts remembering this elegant lady jumping in beside him saying “Hello, I’m Wonona Chang, who are you and where do you come from?” Following her lead, he inquires where she came from, and she replies “Medan.” He could think of nothing to say except “I came from there two days ago” (and he actually had).

Telling us she sensed his inability to offer another word, she immediately said, “Oh don’t worry, I know Medan is a scruffy city.” He remembers that in a flash they were chatting about things Indonesian. He found her both kind and brilliant and more than that. He always knew that Wonona was there to help if he had a question. He said, “Her willingness to help those known and unknown was a central feature to this real ‘lady’ that I and others knew," and she did. "I know many will miss her very much.”

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