Thursday, May 11, 2023

Joyce Chen

In 2014, the USPS honored Joyce Chen for her accomplishments and influence by issuing a stamp with her image (U.S. #4924). The stamp was part of the Celebrity Chef Forever stamp series and was released on September 26, 2014, in Chicago. This series also included Julia Child, James Beard, Edna Lewis, and Felipe Rojas-Lombari. The Celebrity Chefs stamps (49 cents) had five designs, in a pressure-sensitive adhesive pane of 20 stamps. The digital illustrations show the five chefs resembling oil paintings. The selvage design represents a white china plate resting on a fine linen tablecloth.

Joyce Chen was a famous chef who popularized northern-style Chinese food in the United States. Before that, most Americans ate food that wasn’t authentic or originated in China.

Joyce Chen was born in Beijing on September 14, 1917, and died on August 23, 1994. In 1949, Joyce Chen and her family escaped China when the Communists took over.

In 1957, she made pumpkin cookies and Chinese egg rolls for a bake sale fundraiser at the Buckingham School in Cambridge and was surprised that her snacks sold out in an hour. In 1958, she opened the first Joyce Chen restaurant, beginning the all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet. She invented and held a patent for the flat bottom wok with a handle. Chen also created the first line of bottled Chinese stir-fry sauces for the United States in 1984

After she divorced her husband in 1966, she sold her original restaurant to her husband and legally changed her name to her maiden name, Joyce Liao. She continued to use Joyce Chen as her business name. She opened her second restaurant in 1967 even though she was a single mother raising three children who helped her with the restaurant. It was called The Joyce Chen Small Eating Place.

Her third restaurant, the Joyce Chen Restaurant, opened in 1969 and seated 500 people. This restaurant was closed in 1974 when the building was demolished to make new dorms for MIT.

Her fourth restaurant opened in 1973, also called the Joyce Chen Restaurant seated 263 people and operated for 25 years until it closed in 1998.

In 1985, she was diagnosed with dementia and died in 1994.

Class Activities: 
  • Bring in some different Chinese food dishes for the class to taste. 
  • Learn how to use chopsticks. 
  • Research what happened in 1949 that made many Chinese flee the country. 
  • Invite a Chinese chef to come talk to the class.   

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