A Chinese restaurant, the Sichuan Pavilion, operated by Chinese chefs from Sichuan Province, will open on East 44th Street in June. Kua Hua Zheng, a master chef who has served both the late Chairman Mao and China's post-Mao vice premier, Deng Xiaoping, will run the new restaurant with nine other Chinese chefs.
The restaurant marks the first joint US-China venture open to the public in America since normalization of relations between the two countries.
The Sichuan Pavilion joins some 3,000 other restaurants in New York, 200 of which are classified as Szechuan (the old-style spelling for this province).
Although it is familiar to most Americans as a region famous of its hot, spicy food, Mr. Zheng, speaking through an interpreter in an interview with the Monitor, said that contrary to many opinions, Sichuan food is not all hot and spicy.
Prof. Cheng-Tsu Wu, who is a cofounder of the Shu-Mein Corporation (for Sichuan-American Corporation), along with Sichuan Province officials, declares that many of New York's Chinese restaurants were so interested in finding what would be on the Sichuan Pavilion menu that a special printer was found to print it. But even with this precaution, he says he cannot be sure there haven't been any "leaks."
Chef Zheng, who feels that he is on a diplomatic mission as much as a gastronomic one, refuses to criticize any of the dozens of New York restaurants he has visited for taste tests. Professor Wu, who teaches at Hunter College and is also a member of the city's Human Rights Commission, explains that the Sichuan government has plans to export spices and fresh food products to as many of the Chinese restaurants as want them. Up to now, this channel for Chinese ingredients has been closed.
Chef Zheng has been cooking for over 50 of his 66 years, most recently for state banquets. Both he and Chef Xiao Chen Yang, who is much Chef Zheng's junior, despite his 20 years' experience in the kitchen, were the first of the 10 chefs to arrive.
Professor Wu forecasts that if the restaurant catches on, as some New York food critics say it will, even before it opens, there is a possibility of a second restaurant in New York and perhaps others in Washington and other cities.