There is hardly a Chinese restaurant in the U.S. that does not serve some variation on the famous sweet and spicy dish, General Tso’s chicken. Peng Chang-kuei, the chef who invented the dish back in the 1950s, died this week at the age of 98.
According to the New York Times, Peng was born and trained in China’s Hunan province, which is known for its spicy, sour, and salty cuisine. He was an official chef for the Nationalist government, which governed China from 1925 until 1948. In 1949 the Chinese Communist Party came to power, and Peng went to Taiwan with the Nationalists after the revolution.
In Taiwan in 1955, Peng was tasked with making a dish for visiting American Admiral Arthur W. Radford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. That’s when he created General Tso’s chicken, which at the time was a lightly fried dish that Peng described as being a sour, spicy, salty dish that was originally made without sugar. It was a big hit.
General Tso’s chicken was brought to the U.S. in a slightly altered form by other chefs in the 1970s, and Peng himself traveled to New York in 1973 and opened his own restaurant, Peng’s, on 44th Street. Peng opened and closed several restaurants in the U.S. in the 1970s and 1980s, and then moved back to Taiwan, where he opened the first in what would become a chain of restaurants called Peng’s The Gourmet & Banquet. Those restaurants are still operating, and they still serve Peng’s most famous dish.