Joyce Chen

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This is a Chinese name; the family name is Chen.
Joyce Chen
Joyce Chen, chef, restaurant owner, author, television personality.jpg
Born (1917-09-14)September 14, 1917
Beijing, China
Died August 23, 1994(1994-08-23) (aged 76)
Lexington, Massachusetts
Culinary career
Cooking style Northern-style Chinese cuisine

Joyce Chen (Liao Jia-ai) (September 14, 1917 – August 23, 1994) was a Chinese chef, restaurateur, author, television personality, and entrepreneur.

Joyce Chen was credited with popularizing northern-style Chinese cuisine in the United States, coining the name "Peking Raviolis" for potstickers, inventing and holding the patent to the flat bottom wok with handle (also known as a stir fry pan), and developing the first line of bottled Chinese stir fry sauces for the US market. Starting in 1958, she operated several popular Chinese restaurants in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She died of Alzheimer's disease in 1994. Four years after her death, Joyce Chen was included in the 1998 James Beard Foundation Hall of Fame. In 2012, the city of Cambridge held their first Central Square "Festival of Dumplings" in honor of Joyce Chen's birthday.

Early life[edit]

Born in Beijing to a high ranking family in the Qing dynasty,[1] Chen and husband Thomas with their children Henry and Helen left Shanghai in 1949 as the Communists were taking over the country.[2] Chen and her family ultimately settled in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where her son Stephen was born.[2]

In her book, Joyce Chen Cook Book, she said that she grew up with a family chef who left to cook for her father's friend, "Uncle Li," who became the Chinese ambassador to Russia. At that point her mother and her governess cooked the family meals, and Joyce Chen watched, and she learned.[1]


In 1958, Joyce Chen opened her first restaurant, "Joyce Chen Restaurant", at 617 Concord Avenue in Cambridge. According to her son Stephen, here she pioneered the all-you-can-eat Chinese dinner buffet to boost sales on otherwise slow Tuesday and Wednesday nights. She also used the buffet format to allow customers to sample unfamiliar but authentic dishes at a pace of their own choosing.[3]

Chen introduced Bostonians to Northern Chinese (Mandarin) and Shanghainese dishes, including Peking duck, moo shi pork, hot and sour soup, and potstickers, which she call "Peking Ravioli" or "Ravs". The first restaurant remained open until 1971. Members of Bolt, Beranek and Newman's IMP team, when they were working on the first IMPs to create the ARPANET in 1969, would eat Chen's food at her restaurant, which was located next door[4] to BBN.[5]

Joyce Chen's second restaurant, "The Joyce Chen Small Eating Place", was opened in 1967 on Massachusetts Avenue in Central Square, located between Harvard University and MIT. It was small restaurant that seated 60 people; people lined up to get Chen's Chinese food. According to Stephen Chen, at this restaurant his mother introduced the Northern style of Dim Sum. This restaurant was very popular with computer hackers.[6][7] It closed in 1988.

In 1970, Joyce Chen opened her third restaurant, a much larger space seating 500 people, in an existing building located on Memorial Drive in Cambridge. This restaurant benefited from its proximity to MIT and Harvard. However, this restaurant closed in 1973, the building was demolished, and the MIT dorm Next House was built on the site.

In 1973, Joyce Chen opened her fourth restaurant in a modernist custom-designed building at 390 Rindge Avenue, near Fresh Pond.[8] This restaurant, also called "Joyce Chen Restaurant", seated 263. It operated for 25 years, closing in 1998.[9][10]

Joyce Chen was a warm hostess who formed relationships with many guests, including John Kenneth Galbraith, James Beard, Julia Child, Henry Kissinger, Beverly Sills, and Danny Kaye.[11] A former Harvard president called her eating establishment "not merely a restaurant, but a cultural exchange center".[8]

Career highlights[edit]

Following the 1958 opening of her first restaurant, in 1960 Joyce Chen began teaching Chinese cooking at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education and the Boston Center for Adult Education. At this time, she introduced many Americans to home style and gourmet Chinese cooking techniques.

In 1962, Joyce Chen published her influential cookbook, The Joyce Chen Cook Book.[1] Publishers had balked at her insistence on color pictures of food, so she had the book published privately at her own expense.[11] She pre-sold over 6,000 copies of her book at her restaurants before the book was printed.[11] MSG was popular at the time, and was included in most of the recipes.[1]

In 1967, Joyce Chen starred in her own cooking show called Joyce Chen Cooks, on the Public Broadcasting System (PBS).[12] Twenty-six episodes were filmed on the same set as The French Chef (featuring Julia Child) in the studios of WGBH in Boston.[13] The show aired in the US, as well as the United Kingdom and Australia. Celebrity chef Ming Tsai later said of Joyce Chen, "She is the Chinese Julia Child [...] Joyce Chen helped elevate what Chinese food was about. She didn't dumb it down. She opened people's eyes to what good Chinese could taste like."[3]

With a spirit of adventure, according to her son Stephen Chen, in 1968 Joyce Chen took her then 16-year-old son Stephen, and 20-year-old daughter Helen on a trip around the world on Pan Am Flight 001. Joyce Chen, Stephen, and Helen also traveled to China in 1972, the same year that President Nixon first visited China. A PBS documentary on this trip was produced. Soon after Joyce Chen's China aired, she and her family were the victims of a home invasion by five intruders who had seen the film, according to her son Stephen Chen.[citation needed]

In 1971, Joyce Chen launched a line of Chinese cooking utensils.[3] At that time she invented and held the patent to the flat bottom wok with handle, also known as a stir fry pan,[2][3] and sold polyethylene cutting boards (Sumitomo Bakelite).[2] In 1982, "Joyce Chen Specialty Foods" was formed to sell bottled sauces.

According to Stephen Chen, in 1976 Joyce Chen suffered a serious injury to her right hand when she dropped a large glass jar that contained her stir fry sauce. She underwent four to five hours of microsurgery, but never fully recovered the use of her right hand.


Chen was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 1985 [1] and succumbed to it in 1994.[11] Posthumously, Joyce Chen was included in the 1998 James Beard Foundation Hall of Fame.[14] In September 2012, the city of Cambridge held their first "Festival of Dumplings" in Central Square to honor Joyce Chen's birthday.[15][16]

Joyce Chen's son Stephen Chen is president of Joyce Chen Foods, Inc., which sells Chinese potstickers, Chinese cooking oils, sauces, condiments, and spices, all inspired by Joyce Chen's recipes.[17] Daughter Helen Chen markets "Helen's Asian Kitchen Cuisine" products for Harold Import Company.[18][19] She also has written three cookbooks of her own.[20] Son Henry Chen (d. 2007) owned "Joyce Chen Unlimited", a retail store in Acton, Massachusetts, which closed in March 2008.[21]

Many Joyce Chen disciples still own and run Boston area Chinese restaurants. Among them is Pui Chan at "The Wok" in Wellesley, Massachusetts. Chan worked for Chen starting in 1976 at the Alewife location. Chan opened his own restaurant with Chen's encouragement in 1978.[22]


  1. ^ a b c d Chen, Joyce (1962). Joyce Chen Cook Book. Philadelphia: J.B.Lippincott. pp. 1–3, 22. ISBN 0397002858. 
  2. ^ a b c d Chen, Helen (1994). Helen Chen's Chinese Home Cooking. New York: William Morrow. pp. 1–5, 33–34, 38. ISBN 0-688-14609-0. 
  3. ^ a b c d Daley, Bill (20 February 2013). "Taught American palates to speak Chinese". The Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 1 June 2013. 
  4. ^ "Contact < Utility | Raytheon BBN Technologies". Retrieved 2013-10-03. 
  5. ^ Hafner, K., & Lyon, M. (1996). Where wizards stay up late: The origins of the Internet. New York: Simon and Schuster, p. 112.
  6. ^ "40 years of Boston (Phoenix) food - Food Features". Phoenix. 2006-11-15. Retrieved 2013-10-03. 
  7. ^ Eric S. Raymond The new hacker's dictionary entry for marginal
  8. ^ a b Robertson, Rain. "Joyce Chen". Culinary Cambridge. Cambridge Historical Society. Retrieved 12 June 2013. 
  9. ^ "Joyce Chen (1917-1994) - National Women's History Museum". Retrieved September 5, 2013. 
  10. ^ Miara, Jim (Mar 30, 1998). "Last pieces of Joyce Chen empire fall to creditors". Boston Business Journal. American City Business Journals. Retrieved 12 June 2013. 
  11. ^ a b c d "Joyce Chen, 76, U.S. Popularizer Of Mandarin Cuisine". New York Times. August 26, 1994. Retrieved 16 July 2012. 
  12. ^ "Joycechenfoods.Com". Joycechenfoods.Com. Retrieved 2013-10-03. 
  13. ^ "The Origins of the Cooking Show". The New York Times. Retrieved 2013-10-03. 
  14. ^ Pataki, Amy (1998). "Flavors of the Far East". Beard House, The Magazine of the James Beard Foundation. 
  15. ^ Gordon, Jane (21 September 2012). "Acton Resident Attends Inaugural Dumpling Festival in Honor of His Mother". Acton Patch. Retrieved 31 May 2013. 
  16. ^ "Cambridge celebrates Joyce Chen's birthday with Festival of Dumplings". Wicked Local Cambridge. GateHouse Media, Inc. Sep 20, 2012. Retrieved 12 June 2013. 
  17. ^ "Joyce Chen brand seeks boost from new product - Boston Business Journal". 2006-05-01. Retrieved 2013-10-03. 
  18. ^ "Helen's Asian Kitchen Asian Cuisine Products by Helen Chen and Harold Import Company". Retrieved 2013-10-03. 
  19. ^ Julian, Sheryl (February 10, 2010). "She uses her noodle". Boston Globe. Retrieved 12 June 2013. 
  20. ^ Seltzer, Anne-Marie (September 3, 2010). "Helen Chen Remembers Her Mother". Lexington Patch. Patch. Retrieved 12 June 2013. 
  21. ^ Schiavone, Christian (2008-03-19). "Joyce Chen Unlimited Closing - 19 March 2008". Retrieved 2013-05-31. 
  22. ^ "The Wok: About Pui and Carol Chan". Retrieved 2013-05-31. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Joyce Chen Cook Book, Joyce Chen Gourmet Products, Cambridge, MA, 1962, 1982.