Chinese

America's Forgotten Television Chef

October  3, 2017
Joyce Chen on her show in 1967. Courtesy Stephen Chen.

One afternoon in 2013, Stephen Chen got a call from the United States Postal Service. The man on the other end of the line couldn’t reveal why he was calling. All he could say was that he needed photographs of Stephen’s mother, Joyce, because he hadn’t been able to find many online.

Stephen would later learn that the agency was developing a “Celebrity Chefs Forever” line of limited-edition commemorative stamps. Set to be released the following year, the collection would be dedicated to five American icons of food, some well-known (Julia Child, James Beard), others less so (Edna Lewis, Felipe Rojas-Lombardi). The fifth, and final, would be of Joyce.

A Chinese immigrant who’d moved from Shanghai to Massachusetts in 1949, Joyce died in August of 1994 at the age of 76, succumbing to dementia. She left behind three adult children who would assume the different arms of the family business. These were remnants of an empire that, at its peak, encompassed four restaurants in Cambridge, Massachusetts; a cookware company that sold flat-bottomed woks, which she patented, and bamboo spatulas; a line of sauces and frozen foods; a retail store; a cookbook; and a television show.

Joyce Chen Cooks wasn’t just any television show. The half-hour program aired on WGBH for 26 episodes between late 1966 and early 1967, the first nationally-syndicated cooking show hosted by a woman of color. America had never seen a face like hers cooking on television.


Start with the egg roll. In the early 1950s, Joyce’s children—Stephen, now 65; Helen, now 71; and their late brother Henry, who died in 2007 at the age of 63—were all students at what was then known as the Buckingham School, where an annual scholarship event called the Buckingham Circus took place.

Mothers would bring baked goods to the event, and Joyce, the mother of the only Asian-Americans in a predominantly Caucasian school, made egg rolls and pumpkin cookies. She dropped the foods off and returned home. When she came back to the school later that day, she noticed the egg rolls had gone missing. She feared that no one had even dared to touch them, that other mothers had put them under the table to hide from view, or, worse, had simply thrown them out.

(L-R): Thomas, Stephen, and Joyce Chen in Cambridge in 1962. Courtesy Stephen Chen.

She was wrong. Later that day at the supermarket, one of the mothers came up to her and told her that the egg rolls had sold out within an hour. She begged Joyce to make more. Joyce rushed home, prepared more, and brought them over to the school. The students devoured them.

"This is not authentic," Joyce warns in the headnotes for her egg roll recipe in her 1962 cookbook, The Joyce Chen Cook Book. Her egg roll is a peculiar invention that calls for half a pound of a “good hamburger” you’ll mix with sherry, cornstarch, pepper, sugar, and brown gravy with syrup. This may sound like a hacky, Pinterest-friendly Frankenfood were someone to conceive of it today.

But here, in this recipe, lies Joyce Chen’s philosophy of Chinese cooking: She had little interest in purism. Joyce’s conception of authenticity was rather loose and freewheeling by modern standards. She understood the fickle nature of American cravings, experimentative only within boundaries, so it resulted in adulteration when necessary. Her justification for the inclusion of hamburger beef was simple: She’d encountered many American friends who’d tried to master Chinese cooking and come up short because they found it too difficult to procure ingredients.

“That’s the way she was at the restaurant, too,” Helen remembers of her mother’s approach to cooking for American tastes. “Patrons would come and look at some of these dishes they’d never seen before, like hot and sour soup, and she really wanted to introduce it gently to people. She wanted to share the culture of China.” (Nowadays, Joyce’s modifications could look like pandering to American incuriousness. "The ambitious Chen was beyond her depth as a manual-writer and recipe-scenarist," Anne Mendelson judged of Joyce’s cookbook in 2016’s Chow Chop Suey: Food and the Chinese American Journey, scoffing at the notion of Joyce’s cooking as “authentic.”)

Joyce (center) and her in-laws in China in the 1940s. Courtesy Stephen Chen.

Eating a people’s food, Joyce believed, could be a person's first encounter with the culture that shaped it. Born Liao Jia-ai in what was then known as Peking in 1917, Joyce led a pampered life as a kid. Cooking was a passing hobby of hers, and she enjoyed making pastries alongside her family’s chef. Once she came to the United States from Shanghai with her husband Thomas, who worked as an importer of fine art, she fell into the role of a housewife. It was a far cry from her past life as an insurance broker, a rather uncommon vocation for women in China at the time. As a housewife in Cambridge, Joyce suddenly had a lot of time on her hands, so she spent a lot of it cooking.

Helen remembers afternoons of her mother steaming and stir-frying, stewing and pickling. She made zongzi, sticky rice wrapped in bamboo leaves, and suan cai, pickled Chinese cabbage. Before salting them, Joyce used to dry chicken gizzards outside, hanging them on strings as if they were items of laundry.

Joyce opened her first Cambridge restaurant in May of 1958, simply calling it the Joyce Chen Restaurant; she began teaching cooking classes at the Cambridge and Boston Centers for Adult Education two years later. She and her husband ran the restaurant together until divorcing in 1966, after which she divided responsibilities between herself and her children. Over those years, she amassed a steady and devoted following. Her restaurant drew a high-minded and erudite crowd, from Henry Kissinger to James Beard.

The facade of the Joyce Chen Restaurant in 1958. Courtesy Stephen Chen.

One of her frequent patrons was Julia Child, a fellow Cantabrigian whose show, The French Chef, had premiered in 1963 on WGBH to rave reviews: Viewers were taken with this woman whose on-screen persona was one of broad, whimsical appeal. She made French cooking look easy, and she looked awfully playful while doing it, too.

Child visited the Joyce Chen Restaurant often and was a fan, and the producers of Child’s show wanted to capitalize on her show’s successes with Chinese food. So Ruth Lockwood, Child’s producer, asked Joyce if she'd be interested in hosting her own show.


In hindsight, the project was doomed from the start. Joyce’s show, the producers believed, would iterate on the successes of The French Chef while simultaneously appealing to a wider swath of Americans than Child’s show. French food carried an air of rigor and sophistication; Chinese food was synonymous with working-class food.

Joyce and her sister-in-law, Lucy, with Henry and Helen in 1948. Courtesy Stephen Chen.

Or so WGBH thought. It’s a directive that now seems like a somewhat impossible set of parameters for Joyce to succeed within, for it’s inevitable that a show like hers would exist in the shadow of its antecedent. Joyce Chen Cooks had the same studio set as The French Chef, Child’s original set draped in furnishings coded as “Oriental” within the public imaginary; each episode opened with the sound of wind chimes. You could read this as a cruel metaphor for Joyce and the burdens placed upon her: At its core, Joyce’s show was meant to be a carbon copy of Child’s with a gloss of non-threatening, foreign allure. The two women even had the same initials as one another.

Joyce's recipes were labored and multi-pronged. A particularly memorable segment involved Joyce laying a duck carcass flat on the floor of the studio and stabbing it with a bicycle pump to inflate and remove the skin. In another episode, she walked viewers through how to make her chiao-tzu (dumplings), which she'd dubbed Peking Ravioli. It was a name that acknowledged, or perhaps anticipated, American squeamishness to foods they perceived as too peculiar. Over the course of half an hour, she kneaded dough, periodically looking away from the camera to make sure she was following script. She prepared a filling of ground pork, soy, sherry, and sesame oil, sprinkling it with a dust of MSG. She folded the mixture into the skins, pleating their ends like the edges of a skirt. She showed viewers how to cook them two different ways, boiling them in a glass pot and arranging them on an oil-coated pan as if they were flowers.

On television, Joyce, whose mother tongue wasn’t English, came across as coached, sometimes stammering through sentences. Her diction was a matter of sustained effort. WGBH, understanding these handicaps, sought to both work around Joyce’s limitations by hiring a vocal coach and sprinkling the show with subtle nods to her deficiencies in the English language, like illustrated cards that’d spell out words she couldn’t pronounce.

Joyce in Beijing, 1972. Courtesy Stephen Chen.

“She made a very big effort to speak clearly,” Helen tells me. “She would spend hours with Ruth Lockwood, and they would go over each show and go over pronunciation of certain words. She would have trouble saying oil. That was a sort of little joke. That she couldn’t quite the 'L' right.”

Depending on who you ask, Joyce’s show was either a short-lived success or a missed opportunity. Joyce Chen Cooks won a Reader’s Digest educational television award, no small feat. It also didn’t last beyond one season. Her family was in the dark about what factors killed the show, and Joyce herself didn’t speak about it too much.

Helen still wonders if the show died because her mother had a business and WGBH foresaw tensions between those competing interests, citing Bob Vila’s swift departure from This Old House decades later. Perhaps, Helen believes, the end of her mother’s show was due to the fact that WGBH felt Child was the more profitable personality of the two. “I think that she would have liked to have that show continue,” Helen tells me. “It’s something that my mother would have liked to have done more. She certainly had a lot more to offer.”

In a 2014 article written for WGBH’s Open Vault archives, media scholar Dana Polan, author of 2011’s Julia Child’s The French Chef, attributes the show’s demise to a lack of sponsorship in a burgeoning color era for television. For a show to live on in that era, it needed a corporate sponsor. The imminent shift from black and white to color would’ve necessitated a source of capital that Joyce, whose show was in black and white, just couldn’t find.

When I speak to him, though, Polan chalks the show’s demise up to Chen’s personality, and what she projected on screen. “Chen didn’t have the same charisma as Child,” Polan argues to me. He’s quick to note that charisma is more nebulous than quantifiable, and she’d operated under certain constraints that a surfeit of charisma couldn’t necessarily overcome. “Much of this is probably cultural. She falls into the role of the modest Asian [woman]. And women’s cultural work is denigrated in general.”

The bias persists: The very genre of instructional culinary television like Child and Joyce’s shows still aren't quite taken seriously as meaningful artifacts rather than innocuous fluff. “Her shows are just cooking shows for most Americans, and not really important culture,” Polan says of this genre. It is feminized and thus easily dismissed.

Joyce in her restaurant's dining room, 1973. Courtesy Stephen Chen.

There is then the unavoidable fact that Joyce was a foreigner with a heavy accent. Child was not. “I’m sure part of her being eclipsed is due to implicit racism and sexism, and also perhaps xenophobia,” Kathleen Collins, author of 2009’s Watching What We Eat: The Evolution of Television Cooking Shows, writes me over email. In her book, Collins posits that the face of television chefs did not begin to reflect much diversity until the 1980s, in spite of the opportunity that Joyce’s visibility presented. When I ask Collins to name other women of color who’d hosted their own cooking shows broadcast nationally after Joyce, she comes up dry, citing only LaDeva Davis, the buoyant personality behind What’s Cooking in the 1970s, and Kathy Hoshijo, the Hawaiian American host of Kathy’s Kitchen in the 1980s.

“It doesn't mean there weren't any, and perhaps there were local hosts,” Collins tells me. “But the fact that none come to mind as far as national distribution goes is telling in and of itself.”


Ater the last episode of Joyce Chen Cooks aired in 1967, the show survived in the form occasional reruns until 1976. In this interim period, she pitched a documentary to WGBH in 1972, a travelogue in which she, Helen, and Stephen would become some of the first Americans to visit China following then-President Nixon’s 1972 visit. The special, Joyce Chen’s China, aired in May 1973, chronicling the family’s visit to the country in the summer of 1972.

But Joyce’s life was beset with tragedy after the documentary aired: She and Stephen were the victims of a home invasion. In 1976, she suffered a terrible accident in which she dropped a gallon-sized glass jar of her restaurant’s stir-fry sauce on her hand, injuring it so badly that the incident required surgery to rejoin the nerves.

Courtesy Stephen Chen.

Life wasn’t the same after that incident, Stephen tells me. Joyce would forget certain phone numbers for food vendors she relied on to run her restaurants, which she’d stepped away from entirely by 1983. She blamed her hand.

Little by little, Joyce’s memory worsened until she was diagnosed with multi-infarct dementia. (Though most recollections of Chen’s life assume she had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, she never had a formal diagnosis; these were the days in which you couldn’t diagnose Alzheimer’s without a biopsy.) Stephen was her caretaker until 1992, when she was moved to a nursing home in Lexington, Massachusetts. She died there two years later.


“She failed in her mission,” Allen Salkin, author of 2014’s From Scratch: The Uncensored History of the Food Network, says of Joyce. “Julia succeeded in making French cooking accessible or at least giving the impression that it was accessible. Unfortunately, Chinese cooking still does not feel to most Americans like something they can do at home.”

If Salkin’s assessment seems rather harsh, he acknowledges that this perceived failure wasn’t Chen’s fault entirely. He assigns this difficulty, in part, to the fact that Joyce’s show hasn’t entered the same visible rotation on television that Child’s shows enjoy. Reruns are our culture’s way of conferring immortality. Child continues to function as an object of cultural obsession for America. “Joyce Chen has not been rediscovered and celebrated like Julia Child,” Salkin says. “No one has made a movie about her.”

Add to this the fact that there were larger structural biases that prevented her success: a certain tendency to ascribe European cuisines a greater cultural cachet than those of the Global South. He cites food television’s tilt towards Europe and away from Asia.

Joyce on her show. Courtesy Stephen Chen.

“There’s still this idea that fine cuisine is what you get in France and the parts of Italy that Mario Batali has visited,” he says. “It’s amazing how annoying and persistent and untrue this idea is.”

Shortly after Joyce's death, the prognosis of her empire was rather bleak. The last of her four restaurants shuttered in 1998. Helen Chen, who has a career of her own as a cookbook author and cooking instructor, sold her mother’s cookware company in 2003 to Chicago-based giant Columbian Home Products because she needed to make it profitable. The appliances are Joyce Chen’s in name but not in spirit. Helen is careful not to say much about its new proprietors, who did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Joyce's elder son, Henry, died in 2007, and with it came the shuttering of Joyce Chen Unlimited, his retail shop based in Acton, Massachusetts. What remains of Joyce's business ventures are a cookware company owned by Columbian and Joyce Chen Foods, a line of condiments and frozen foods, run exclusively by Stephen. They both keep her name alive, but they're not necessarily associated with a television show, much less an actual person.

Joyce in 1984. Courtesy Stephen Chen.

“The hardest part is convincing people to stock these foods,” Stephen tells me of maintaining Joyce Chen Foods. He still lives in Acton, MA, not far from where he lived with his mother.

Stephen tells me that the recognition his mother received from USPS was a boon for his business, stimulating interest in her anew, particularly among a generation that hadn’t grown up knowing her name. That same year, WGBH digitized a fraction of the episodes of the show, 11 out of 26, putting them back in the public domain after decades.

Joyce Chen Forever stamp, issued September 26, 2014 as part of the U.S. Postal Service Celebrity Chefs Forever stamp series. Photo by Creative Commons

There are tributes to Joyce that sprout up occasionally. Take an illustrated children’s book, Carrie Clickard’s Dumpling Dreams: How Joyce Chen Brought the Dumpling from Beijing to Cambridge, released last month, just before Joyce would’ve turned 100. It’s a 48-page biographical sketch of Joyce that documents how she perfected her command of making dumplings: rolling the dough, dabbing it with stuffing, and pinching it closed.

When I ask Clickard how she first heard of Joyce, she tells me she came across an image of the stamp: a picture of a big-cheeked woman smiling, wearing a cheongsam the color of cornflowers. “I was curious at first,” Clickard writes to me over email. “Who was this wonderful Chinese chef I had never heard of? I set out to read everything I could about her. The more I learned, the more fascinated I became.”

She’d never seen Joyce’s face before, and she wondered why. She wanted to get to know her, so she started by watching her show.

To watch old episodes of Joyce Chen Cooks, head to the WGBH Open Vault.

37 Comments

Charlotte February 5, 2018
As an person of color, I didn't bat an eyelash at the author's use of "woman of color." In fact, I was surprised that so many people "cringed" when they read the phrase...and that all these offended people are actually white.<br />Listen lady, as a person who isn't white, I can tell you that we DON'T want to be shoved under your veneer of racial hyper-sensitivity. "But I don't see color!" you might say. Bullshit.<br />It's honestly so tiring when white people try to coach other people on how to be racially sensitive...especially when their main objective is to make THEMSELVES feel comfortable.<br />YES, black people want to be called black people, women of color want to be called women of color, and none of us want a white knight who constantly charges into the wrong battle.
 
Brett N. October 17, 2017
lol... I am not a member of this site. I just found her cookbook in my stack of old cookbooks. I've been reading it and wanted to learn more about Joyce Chen. I am eager to try some of her recipes and hopefully watch her show. Seems like quite a cook, and quite a woman. I didn't know, however, that the comments would turn in to a full blown race based argument. I am not a 40 something white woman. I'm a 31 year old white male. And as a commentary written here, of the time in which these events transpired, "person of color" was an entirely appropriate phrase... It isn't even an offensive term now unless used in context with the intent of being prejudice. Otherwise it is not a politically incorrect term, nor does it detract from her accomplishments. In fact it highlights that her accomplishments were even more so inspiring and impressive given the racist and sexist tones in American culture at the time... So yeah, grow up folks. Your willingness to defend against racism is wonderful. Your ignorance is unfortunately, obvious and, your downfall. Have fun kids. Keep cooking.
 
Idalu October 13, 2017
@sarah blake. My goodness how easy it is for you to label people who don't think like you racist! Try to see things from other people's perspective before jumping to hurtful labels. People have different opinions in life, this platform should be used as an opportunity to enhance one's mind. I shouldn't have to say it but no I'm not racist.
 
Sarah B. October 13, 2017
*sigh* I just feel like the folks complaining about calling a woman of color a woman of color are racist. Otherwise why would that make you cringe?
 
Suzanne D. October 10, 2017
Hi, I wanted to say that we stand behind this story and Mayukh's writing. “Woman of color” is an appropriate term because this story is concerned with the politics of cultural reception. It’s not an exhaustive description that skims past her identity as Chinese or first generation, but a term that situates and celebrates her success in an industry that historically has treated whiteness as an invisible standard.
 
Barry S. October 9, 2017
Three questions for the author:<br />1. What about the legacy of Joyce Chen beyond her own brand in Central Square, Cambridge, and beyond? (See, most notably, Mary Chung Restaurant.)<br />2. Why exactly does a color television production require a sponsor while a black-and-white one does not? (The cameras, studio equipment and transmitter would all have been fixed costs of WGBH.)<br />3. Was Barbara "B." Smith not a nationally broadcast chef and woman of color?
 
Dana P. November 8, 2017
Since I'm the source for the article of the assertion that color shows cost more than b&w, let me explain (and I should note that I asked a number of TV historians and historians of visual recording processes to confirm my thoughts):<br />--there are costs beyond "cameras, studio equipment and transmitter" (to quote the original poster) in any TV production. For example, to switch to color might require new set design (and it definitely would have for Chen's show since it had been using Julia Child's set but that itself had been dismantled in the changeover to color); it probably would require more attention from technicians and engineers ON AN ONGOING BASIS to ensure proper color reproduction (for example, color balancing); it would require different lighting. (And brighter: to hide the fact that the original show was using Julia Child's sets, a lot of the Chen show was shrouded in shadow. That wouldn't have worked in color, and even-overall lighting of the set for color would have required more lights, also bringing up expense.) All of these are new costs.<br />--if ever celluloid was involved in making copies of the show, that would have cost more for color than b&w. That's a given.<br />--it is not necessarily the case that initial camera purchase, studio equipment, and transmitter are fixed costs. Typically, studios amortize those by charging individual series the costs on an ongoing basis as overhead. So it is not WGBH itself that pays for the equipment outlay but individual shows -- who are charged in their budget for that outlay. So a color Chen show might well have had to incur charges against initial purchase of WGBH equipment in the conversion to color. WGBH buys the equipment but then individual shows are deemed to "owe" the station if they use that equipment. (And not just initial cost but repair and depreciation. For example, TV cameras in the 60s are notorious for bulbs blowing out.)<br />--I can't confirm this yet (but have a few inquiries out about it) but imagine that magnetic tape for color recording would be costlier (because needing to embed more visual information) than b&w).<br />--and in any case, it is a general perception in media industries and their administrators that new technologies cost money, whether or not that is actually the case. So for WGBH to contemplate an in-color Joyce Chen show might have meant them imagining something that would be costly and therefore probably require sponsorship.<br /><br />Does that explain it?
 
ChefJune October 9, 2017
I never met Joyce, but her daughter Helen was my colleague in the Women's Culinary Guild of Boston in the 80's-early 90's. Joyce Chen's influence in the Boston food community was considerable.<br />I am sorry some of you think referring to her as a person of color is offensive. Personally, I think it's just an accurate description of her. And her tv show WAS the first hosted by a person of color.
 
susan G. October 8, 2017
Joyce Chen's TV shows taught me a lot! They were broadcast by public TV in Washington DC. I was a 'young bride' then, and loved to think that I could learn to cook foods at that time were seen as restaurant-only. I still go back to her cookbook, as much for the text as the recipes. (See what she says about using ginger.)
 
Panfusine October 8, 2017
Brilliant tribute to a pioneer Mayukh Sen. Cant't ask for a better inspiration for those of us 'melanin endowed' cooks to carry on creating versions of our respective native cuisines to be carried forward for future generations in the US of A, and of course the cherry on the icing would be if they attained the level of stardom that Julia Child managed to get for French cuisine, (with the little help from the 'privilege' she was born with.)
 
Idalu October 8, 2017
I cringed too when I read "woman of color". Who are the colorless people? She was a woman, a succesful chef and restaurant owner. Tell her story, which you did beautifully but leave it as that.
 
Abby October 8, 2017
Another former Bostonian who grew up on Joyce's food. I still compare every potsticker I eat to her Peking Ravioli and I use her cookbook regularly. It may not be authentic, but the food is delicious. <br /><br />Incidentally, I can confirm that she did indeed have Alzheimer's - my mom was involved with the lab where her post-mortem diagnosis was done.
 
mcs3000 October 5, 2017
Another fantastic piece, Mayukh. Some people are strong writers. Some reporters. You're both.
 
Betty B. October 5, 2017
I loved reading the information about Joyce Chen and her amazing accomplishments. I did cringe when I read your description of her as " a person of color". We do not need the divisive language that ascribes difference based on one's skin tone or country of origin. Social and cultural hierarchies are a thing of the past...or should be.
 
melissa October 5, 2017
betty, please google "white fragility" and read the results.
 
caninechef October 6, 2017
Is "white fragility" real or imagined really an issue here? From a quick bit of research ( I can not swear to its completeness) but it looks like Joyce Chen's program was the 5th televised cooking show in the USA. It seems to me that it demeans her achievement to qualify her success. She was clearly in the forefront of what today has become a huge industry, surely an achievement worthy without qualification. I am sure America had not seen a face like hers cooking on TV before because they had seen very few faces at all, ( on none for probably 90% plus of the US population) in 1966.
 
melissa October 6, 2017
yes, caninechef: betty barrett tells us she "cringes" when she hears the term "person of color." that is actually the DEFINITION of white fragility which you'd know if you actually read the article.<br /><br />also, why do you, or BB, assume that calling someone a POC is demeaning??????????????? AHHHH FKLDAJFLKDAFJLKAREIOFU<br /><br />white fragility is not imaginary. it is an observable reaction coined and explicated by a professor of multicultural education. again, you'd know if you actually read. <br /><br />race is a social fiction with lived material consequences.<br />race is a social fiction with lived material consequences.<br />race is a social fiction with lived material consequences.<br />race is a social fiction with lived material consequences.<br />race is a social fiction with lived material consequences.<br />race is a social fiction with lived material consequences. <br /><br />Nice White Ladies with your pink pussy hats, where are you?
 
melissa October 6, 2017
as a longtime member of food52 i take it that as middle-aged and educated women of ALL colors, many of you here want to "be nice," "take the high road, "remain above the fray," "stay positive," "inhabit your best self," etc. etc. please know that this leaves the marginalized tasked with the emotional and mental labor of having to defend ourselves, alone, against challenges to self-naming, self-expression, and general claims to existence. <br /><br />i don't know whether this is geographic, generational, class-based, race-based, or a combination of all these things, but it is clear that the language and topics mayukh uses in this article and in his other work, comes under constant challenge here. (he gets praise, too, but the praisers rarely step in to challenge his challengers. with friends like that...) <br /><br />it's very clear that Food52 is NOT a good place to nurture writers of color. like many institutions, they will hire you to add "spice" to the offerings, but the community and leadership are nowhere to be found when you have to deal with racist s*it. this is the difference between hiring others to do the diversity work for you, and doing it your g-d selves. <br /><br />and yes, i will continue to use this site as i always have, because i like the recipes.
 
Abby October 8, 2017
Speaking as a middle-aged white woman who proudly wore her pussy hat in DC, "person of color" was exactly the right phrase to use in that article. Race was an issue at the time, Mayukh Sen was right to write about it, and right to use the language of racial difference in America. <br /><br />Sorry, Melissa, that I didn't see this and comment earlier. You do have support around here.
 
Lauren October 8, 2017
I agree, great article, BUT very poor choice of nomenclature that also caused me to cringe. @Betty Barrett, you are right on target. Talk about race-baiting, Food52 should be ashamed that they don't have a better editing system to replace any race based nomenclature. A better solution, call people of various racial origins by their actual origins.
 
Liza October 9, 2017
Pro tip: when someone who is not you, tells you "this is my experience," don't argue with them and deny the reality that they live in. Listen. Acknowledge. Learn something. furthermore the phrase "woman of color" is neither devisive, or race baiting. It is only offensive to fragile white "snowflakes" who refuse to open their eyes and see the very real injustices experienced by people (of color) every day. because to acknowledge the injustice would mean they have to acknowledge that they are the beneficiaries of a system that oppresses, and it would also mean that there is a moral imperative to do something about it, and that upsets their delicate sensibilities. It is apparently easier to deny the reality of millions of people than it is to do literally anything about it. What blows my mind is doing nothing wasn't even enough, you had to take to the internet to disparage a writer for "race baiting" because he wrote about race in an article in which the subject's race was important to the story. Seriously??? Maybe it's time to reassess why it made you uncomfortable, maybe it's time to examine how you respond to other race related issues and try to get at the root of what drives those emotions. It's difficult work, and it requires self awareness and reflection. But when your gut reaction to reading the phrase "woman of color" makes you "cringe," if even the slightest reference to a race other than yours gives you a visceral reaction, it's time to do the work. And I promise the problem isn't "race baiting" it's how low your threshold is for "baiting". That one's on you. Do better next time.
 
Lauren October 9, 2017
@Liza, you might consider taking your own advice. "When someone who is not you, tells you 'this is my experience,' don't argue with them and deny the reality that they live in. Listen. Acknowledge." *Applause*. I find (quite emphatically) the term "woman of color" both divisive and incredibly race baiting. Also I might point out, you might consider learning to spell "divisive". Perhaps you're not fully aware of what it means.
 
Liza October 9, 2017
@lauren. Cool, if you care to educate me on more than my spelling, by all means you have the floor. Why does "woman of color" make you uncomfortable? How is it race baiting? I'm head to listen.
 
Liza October 9, 2017
Here* (autocorrect)
 
Abby October 9, 2017
Lauren, could you also offer an alternative phrase with the same meaning? Since you don't like "women of color," what would you prefer? Non-white women? Coloured women? Pigment-enhanced women? "Women of color" and "people of color" are the commonly accepted terms used in the US today. Unless you have a better suggestion, you are not just trying to police our language, you are trying to impose limits on the categories we're allowed to think about. Very 1984.
 
Lindsay-Jean H. October 9, 2017
Hi all, just popping on to remind everyone that we're all for engaging in spirited debate and learning from each other, even when we disagree. Please continue to choose your words carefully, be considerate of others, and keep the conversation in the realm of respectful debate and constructive criticism.
 
Lauren October 9, 2017
@Abby, absolutely! I made such a suggestion in my first post, see above. "... call people of various origins by their actual origins." By way of example, an American woman with Chinese heritage such as Ms. Chen would be better referred to as "Chinese-American." So simple.
 
Lauren October 9, 2017
@Liza, I'll be happy to explain. I think that history reveals a telling story about racial nomenclature, think of the many ways in which people have described racial heritage through history; even just decades ago certain terms for describing various races are now deemed incredibly incendiary. Thus, I strongly believe that simply calling people of various origins by their actual origins or racial heritage(s) is an easy way to prevent any discomfort.
 
Abby October 9, 2017
Lauren, the question was for a phrase with the same meaning. Referring to Joyce Chen as Chinese is very different from calling her a woman of color. There are experiences of being "other" that are common to all women n the US who are not white. Without an expression that describes that group, it becomes impossible to discuss those commonalities. Limiting ourselves to only origins or racial heritage is silencing discussion on important issues of our time. <br /><br />Maybe this would be clearer with a comparable example. Imagine if you were told you could not discuss "Christians", but only individual denominations. You could not discuss "Christian beliefs" or "Christian values", only Episcopal beliefs and values and Southern Baptist beliefs and values and Methodist beliefs and Lutheran beliefs etc., all as separate things. Can you see how that limits the discussion and damages the ability to express ideas effectively? That's exactly what you are asking for, just based on race/origin rather than on religion. <br /><br />While it may make you uncomfortable, the reality women who are not white see themselves as sharing experiences, interests, and issues. The language has to exist to talk about that commonality.
 
Lauren October 9, 2017
@Abby, I wholly disagree with that idea. My argument remains the same, the term "people of color" is an unfortunate term that is frankly offensive to some (as these posts clearly show). The parallels by which you attempt to show similarity between the term "Christians" and "people of color" do not justify the use of an inflammatory term. For example, the term "Christian(s)" is used to describe a group of people who share some core, religious belief systems, such as the belief in an Abrahamic, monotheistic religion which places particular emphasis on Jesus Christ; it is a very specific religious group and one that as you have accurately pointed out has numerous different denominations or sects. Calling entire swaths of people of different racial heritages by one term (a term that is clearly incendiary to at least some) is quite unthinking and verges on rude. Further, your argument contains a Non Sequitur fallacy "...women who are not white see themselves as sharing experiences, interests, and issues. The language has to exist to talk about that commonality." Non Sequitur: It does not follow. Although the first sentence may be true, the second is not a logical conclusion. If using a person's (or persons') actual national origin or racial heritage is not easy, or as you have pointed out fails to describe the "otherness" that people of various racial backgrounds may find in common, there are plentiful other terms by which to call people of various national and racial origins. Some which come to mind are the following: non-Caucasian, first (or second+) American immigrant, etc. I think it not so difficult as some might first imagine.
 
Abby October 9, 2017
"Non-Caucasian" is defining people by a negative, that is hostile language. Not all first or second generations immigrants are not white. Those words do not have the same meaning as women of color of people of color. The question for me is, what is there about that entirely factual phrase that upsets you?
 
Charlotte February 5, 2018
As an person of color, I didn't bat an eyelash at the author's use of "woman of color." In fact, I was surprised that so many people "cringed" when they read the phrase...and that all these offended people are actually white.<br />Listen lady, as a person who isn't white, I can tell you that we DON'T want to be shoved under your veneer of racial hyper-sensitivity. "But I don't see color!" you might say. Bullshit.<br />It's honestly so tiring when white people try to coach other people on how to be racially sensitive...especially when their main objective is to make THEMSELVES feel comfortable.<br />YES, black people want to be called black people, women of color want to be called women of color, and none of us want a white knight who constantly charges into the wrong battle.
 
Andrea N. October 4, 2017
Great reporting and analysis, down to the J.C. irony between Chen and Child. I love Joyce Chen's chutzpah. Because of you, I'm adding JC's '62 book to my collection. Thanks, Mayuhk.
 
Hillary October 4, 2017
Thank you for keeping Chef Chen's legacy alive. Like others below, I spent my childhood Sundays eating at her Cambridge restaurant. She gave me countless panda pins over the years and always stopped by the table for a warm chat. I treasure my signed copy of her cookbook and still aspire to find a Peking dumpling worthy of her. I don't think ill ever find one.
 
Starmade October 4, 2017
I love these experience-near histories you do, Mayukh. I also grew up in Massachussetts when Joyce Chen was important; lots of people learned from her, my mother certainly did; in the age that invented wonder bread and pop tarts, she opened a vista on another whole world of cooking. <br />
 
Bethviola October 4, 2017
I'm a Boston area native who grew up going to Joyce Chen and all the dumplings in the area were called Peking ravioli. I loved reading this and learning about the woman behind it all. Thanks for the awesome feature.
 
stingraystirs October 3, 2017
Thanks for another great piece. This one is particularly meaningful because my Grandmother, who lived in a small N.H. town, was obsessed with Joyce Chen. She watched her show religiously (and according to my mother, complained bitterly about WGBH when the show was cancelled, threatening to stop donating to public television). The recipes from her well worn copy of "The Joyce Chen Cook Book" were on regular rotation for years, including those egg rolls, which we loved as kids. It was definitely my introduction to Chinese cooking, even if it wasn't purely authentic, her practicality and addition of things like ground beef definitely appealed to my Grandmother, who had a hard time getting the ingredients. She even owned the Joyce Chen wok and taught us all how to use it. My Grandmother would have enjoyed your story too, and now I need to go call my Mother (who has her copy of the cook book) for that egg roll recipe. Thanks again....