At 89, Cecilia Chiang, famed restaurateur and longtime Marin resident, radiates. Known best as the elegant proprietress of the Mandarin, her landmark San Francisco restaurant, Madame Chiang is ready for change. She recently purchased her first pair of blue jeans, and on a larger scale, she is selling her home of 40 years on West Shore Road in Belvedere. Bay Area foodies might want to pool their resources to purchase and enshrine this five-bedroom waterfront home. Here is where Chiang, besides raising her own two children and extended family (including 26 relatives from China), has trained chefs for her various restaurant ventures and entertained a who’s who of Bay Area chefs, including dear friend Alice Waters, for whom she recently threw a milestone birthday party attended by 50 guests. Last year, Chiang coauthored (with Tiburon’s Lisa Weiss) Seventh Daughter, a cookbook and memoir aptly named for her birth order. For the past six years she’s also been a passionate advocate for the bilingual Chinese American International School in San Francisco.
What’s her favorite local Chinese restaurant? Without hesitation, she recommends P. F. Chang’s in Corte Madera’s Town Center. “The price is affordable, nice atmosphere, good service, and the food is simple and tastes very good.” She smiles. “And I like to support the family.” Her son Philip Chiang is cofounder.
You could live anywhere. Why Marin? For many years, I lived in San Francisco. I went to work, it was foggy; I came home it was foggy. In Marin we are so lucky to have beautiful weather.
What makes you happy in Marin? I like the casual lifestyle and people; my neighbors are very nice, (are) not too nosy, don’t ask personal questions and always have a friendly smile. Most of all, I like the safe feeling here; this is something money cannot buy.
What’s your personal idea of luxury? People ask me if, at 89, I have a special Chinese secret herb (accounting) for my health, happiness and energy. I have my ancestors to thank for that: my parents both lived well into their 90s. They died of starvation during the Cultural Revolution. Here in America we are so lucky. When I hear people complain in this country, I think to myself, “Oh, God should punish you.”
Is there is something you value every day? Every morning I wake up (and) say, “thank God.”
What person has influenced you the most? My mother was quite strong and taught us a lot. She taught us to always to be nice to others first. She was also a really good cook and really loved good food.
The most fulfilling moment of your work? Every moment: I am a person who really enjoys working. Even after retiring, I can’t help myself; it is my nature. I think taking care of this big house has kept me healthy. This might be my Chinese secret. To me it is really a pleasure to have something to work on.
Favorite Marin view? The sunset from right here (West Shore Road). It is really fantastic—just like a fire at night—and then the August moon, when it is a double moon (one in the sky, one reflected in the bay).
What do you like about yourself? I like myself; everyone should like his/herself. I feel proud of myself for all that I have done, but if I had stayed in China, it would not have been possible. Here in America I had the opportunity to be successful with my restaurants and (was) able to support my family and others.
How do you want to be remembered? When I had my business I had to remember names and my customers’ special needs. One man always ordered a Rob Roy and when another came in I made sure there was no garlic in any of his food. My memory is a special gift and I have been very lucky. But most of all I want to be remembered as someone who liked people.