Madame Wu dead: Famed L.A. restaurateur served the stars

Long black hair piled on top of her head and gorgeous in a floor-length silk gown, Madame Sylvia Wu will step out of her Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud and – smiling brightly – push open the double red doors of her home. temple-style shops, packed with customers.

On a given night, Frank Sinatra and his young bride, Mia Farrow, will enjoy a plate of Wu’s beef, stir-fried ribs with onions and oyster sauce. Mae West shows up on Sunday and faithfully orders cold melon soup, while Gregory Peck and Paul Newman prefer shrimp toast and crab cakes. Princess Grace of Monaco talks about Peking duck.

For decades, Madame Wu’s Garden in Santa Monica has been where well-dressed Hollywood A-listers congregate in the Royal Room with its jade and rose quartz figurines while the birds chirp. in an ancient cage and koi fish slowly glide in the elegant fountain.

In an era when General Tso’s chop and chicken have become authentic Chinese dishes, the restaurant’s menu is a step forward, although still a few years away from the diversity and authenticity of the cuisine. Today in Los Angeles is a food fanatic. But that doesn’t matter much, for Wu has always been the star attraction as she walks from table to table, gathers with chefs or grabs her phone and picks up takeout dishes.

“Everybody in this town knows Madame Wu,” late TV host Merv Griffin once told The Times, summarizing the city’s general affection for the restaurant owner. “One of the dearest, sweetest, most elegant women I have ever known.”

An energy source that only slowed slightly in retirement, Wu died September 29 at 106.

In its heyday, Madame Wu’s Garden was a welcoming beacon on Wilshire Boulevard, vibrant with activity and crowded with Hollywood elite. It seats 300, features a stone waterfall, bold red murals, and Tang Dynasty horses painted on the walls, as if trotting toward the kitchen.

Elizabeth Taylor joined after the movie “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” Robert Redford always requested Booth 55, tucked away in a dark nook. Mary and Jack Benny celebrated their 46th wedding anniversary, just weeks before the actor’s death. Cary Grant taught the restaurant owner how to make a shredded chicken salad, which quickly became a much-loved dish.

When she closed the restaurant in 1998, when tastes in the city changed and she wished to spend more time with her grandchildren, she immediately regretted the decision and opened Madame Wu’s Asian store. Bistro & Sushi at Grove recently opened. Although the new restaurant quickly disappeared, the affection for Madame Wu did not. When she turned 100 in 2014, her former clients filled up a hotel ballroom to celebrate her birthday. However, by American calculations, she is only 99 years old.

Born on October 24, 1915, Sylvia Cheng grew up in Jiujiang, a city southwest of Shanghai on the banks of the Yangtze River. Her well-off parents separated when she was young and passed away when she was still young. She was raised by her grandfather, a generous and cultured man who owned a department store and a bank. Her love of cooking was born while surreptitiously watching the maid prepare meals for the family.

Before the outbreak of World War II, the family moved to Shanghai and then Hong Kong. When a friend offered her a one-way ticket on an ocean liner to New York, she accepted it, albeit cautiously.

“I don’t know how I got the courage,” she later recalled. “I have no family in America. The trip lasted 40 days, and because of the war, the entire road was without power.”

While pursuing her education at Columbia University, she met King Yan Wu, a successful chemist who had just graduated from MIT. They married, had three children, and moved to LA, where an engineer job at Hughes Aircraft Co. waiting for her husband.

She was immediately appalled by the heavy fake Cantonese dishes she encountered in the city’s Chinese restaurants.

“Chop suey is everywhere,” she complained to USA Today. “All you see are tiny houses.”

With some free time after his children went to boarding school, Wu opened his restaurant in 1959, first in a small location and then in a larger location, now occupied by a Whole Foods grocery store. hold. To promote the business, she wrote a letter to members of her church and asked a friend, who is a studio director, to promote Madame Wu’s Garden. It worked.

“We sold out on the first night and people queued outside for six months,” she told KCET in 2015.

Business slowed for the next 39 years until more casual and popular Chinese restaurants opened. Along the way, Wu wrote cookbooks, appeared regularly on television, and dabbled in charity work, especially at the City of Hope cancer center after her daughter, Loretta, died of cancer. breast cancer at the age of 34.

Wu is survived by two sons George and Patrick and many grandchildren. Her husband died in 2011. The two have been married for 67 years.

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-10-01/madame-wu-famed-westside-restauranteur-who-served-the-stars-dies Madame Wu dead: Famed L.A. restaurateur served the stars

Russell Falcon

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