Fu Pei Mei

Fu Pei-Mei was born in Dalianin in 1931, Shandung Province’s Fushan County in northeastern China during the era of Japanese colonial rule. She studied at a Japanese girls school in Manchuria during the Second World War and spoke fluent Japanese. After V-J Day went on to Beijing to the National Girl’s Normal University.

She moved to Taiwan at the age of 19 after the communists took control of China, first working at a trading company and appearing in TV commercials promoting electric home appliances. She began to learn how to cook only after she married Ch'eng Shao-ch'ing and raised three children.

Fu Pei Mei
She opened the Pei-Mei’s Chinese Cooking Institute in 1957 that attracted many housewives and brides-to-be. It was the first Chinese culinary school. Studying with her was like studying with Julia Childs. More than thirty-thousand students, Chinese and foreign, attended and learned the techniques and secrets of regional Chinese cookery. Japanese expatriates in Taiwan in particular liked to study Chinese cuisine with her due to her fluent Japanese.

Many of her students went on to become famous chefs and restauranteurs worldwide. Prior to this time, many recipes were handwritten, passed down the family through their restaurants, and were guarded secrets. Royal cuisine in the Imperial Palace obviously had their own cookbooks, but they were not open to the public. She closed the class in the 1995 because of family financial disputes, retired, and was seldom seen in public.

The Taiwan Television Enterprise (TTV) saw her success and in 1962, put her on TV hosting a weekly cooking program. With a loyal and growing audience, in 1986 it became a daily program and ran until 1992. For many years, she was the most popular television cooking show host in the country. During this time, she introduced more than 4,000 different Chinese dishes. The programs have been exported to the US, Japan, the Philippines and other Southeast Asian countries. In addition, from 1977 to 1983 she demonstrated cooking in Japan for the Fuji Television Company.

In 1962, the same year she began on TV, Mrs. Fu started writing her first cookbook, “Pei-Mei’s Chinese Cookbook.” It was one of the first to have a full color picture of the finished dish and was written in both Chinese and English. Following her recipes was easy, instructions were clear and concise.

Fu subsequently wrote many cookbooks, teaching homemakers cooking skills, recipes and the fun of family cooking. She is believed to be the first Chinese person to gain fame by writing cookbooks. Her works were once considered vital for a bride’s dowry. Copies, often with hand-written notes in the margins, have been passed down from mother to daughter to granddaughter in both China and the United States for years.

Her books were many people’s foray into Chinese cooking, her recipes were their culinary mantra. Her recipes were wonderful taste treats and explorations into Chinese cuisine using what was then considered less common ingredients. Using her books, people learned use of the cleaver, that the degree of heat is always critical, and that thickness and ingredient size contribute to texture, taste, and visual delight.

Her 48 cookbooks include:

  • Pei Mei Cookbook I, II and III” (original set of 3)
  • Pei Mei’s Home Style Chinese Cooking
  • Pei Mei’s Chinese Snacks and Desserts
  • Pei Mei’s Lunchbox Cookbook
  • Pei Mei’s TV Program Cookbook I, II, III, IV, V
  • (TV program companion series)
  • Pei Mei’s Best Selection Chinese Cuisine I, II” (these are the most famous Chinese banquet dishes that she feels best represent all 8 regional cooking styles, by region)
  • Pei Mei’s Recipe Cards I, II, III, IV, V

Through TV programs, guest appearances, and the Pei-Mei Chinese Cooking Institute classes held at her home and then elsewhere, during government sponsored courses and invited lectures and demonstrations abroad, her tutelage educated countless numbers about Chinese cuisine. She was and is “Pei-Mei the Great” to many Chinese cooking officianados. Because of her success in every one of these venues, Fu Pei-Mei received many awards, many of them from many different countries, associations, and governments.

During the heyday of her career — from the 1970s to the 1990s — Fu helped promote Taiwan’s international presence, as she was often invited to demonstrate Chinese culinary art and skills in various countries.

These recognitions brought her to the attention of many organizations as special advisor. In 1973, China Airlines invited her to be just that, a special advisor to improve the food on its overseas flights. She served on committees to select chefs for employment abroad, judged amateur and professional cookery contests, and video-taped explanations and popular dishes in Taiwan.

Beside teaching, she was aware of the needs of the food industry. She saw a need to modernize but not a need to produce foods with less flavor. In 1983, she developed a team to work with food processing facilities to meet the needs of Chinese and Western consumers. This group, under her leadership, developed various kinds of foods and sauces suitable cans, air-tight packages, and frozen foods.

Fu was diagnosed with liver cancer in 1997, and subsequently with pancreatic cancer. Despite her illness, she delighted in traveling abroad, since it helped her forget her illnesses. She died at Veterans General Hospital Taipei on September 16, 2004 at the age of 73.

Fu is survived by two daughters and a son (Michael Hsien Hao Cheng). One of her daughters, Angela Cheng Anqi, and her daughter-in-law, Theresa Lin Cheng, are also versed in culinary skills. Despite this family background, Fu never ran a restaurant.