The Life and Legacy of Famed Chinese Cook Florence Lin

China 24

When American cooking icon Julia Child wanted to learn about Chinese cuisine, she turned to Florence Lin. The cook was born in Shanghai, came to the U.S., and had a long and fruitful career.

She died at the age of 97 this past December.

CGTN’s Karina Huber takes a look at her life, and her legacy.

Grace Young, the author of numerous cookbooks including “Stir Frying to the Sky’s Edge,” prepared a recipe by Florence Lin: chicken with bean sauce.

Young is dedicated to preserving traditional Chinese cooking, and  first met Lin when doing research for her book “The Breath of a Wok”. At the time, Lin was in her 80s.

“It was just a joy from the beginning,” Young said. “She was girlish, fun to be with and she also had a great sense of humor.”

She also had extensive knowledge about Chinese food. Born in Hankou in 1920, Lin often accompanied her prosperous father on business trips, being exposed to food from all of China.

When she migrated to the United States with her husband in 1947 she brought that love of Chinese food with her, and began experimenting. 

Lin’s rise in the culinary world began at China Institute, a cultural institution in New York City. It was there in 1960 that she first started teaching cooking classes, which became wildly popular.

Famed cook Julia Child was one of her students, and food journalists at the New York Times also took notice. Lin was later asked to be lead contributor to the first installment of Time Life’s “Foods of the World” series, focusing on Chinese food.

“And some of the dishes in that book are just dishes that had never been seen in a Chinese cookbook,” according to Young. “She was really a maverick.”

Lin’s first book, “Florence Lin’s Chinese Regional Cookbook,” was published in 1975.

“She just opened up almost the whole map of China to American cooks through her presentation,” according to culinary historian Anne Mendelson.

It was Lin’s last book on Chinese noodles, dumplings and breads that most impresses the author.

“I mean just the word Chinese bread; people wouldn’t have known what you were talking about 50 years earlier. They only thought of Chinese eating rice.”

Lin went on to publish five cookbooks in her lifetime, many of them considered classics.

For those who knew her best like friend Millie Chan, who took Lin’s classes at China Institute, she is no less than one of the greatest cooks in America.

“I would her consider her more like the Julia Child of Chinese cooking, frankly,” Chan said. “She was able to spread the word around, and because of her winning personality,everybody adored her.”

Lin died in New York this past December at the age of 97, surrounded by her family.