Chef Kathy Fang for MESA & BAR Magazine TOP CHEFS OF SAN FRANCISCO Special Edition
Chef Kathy Fang for MESA & BAR Magazine TOP CHEFS OF SAN FRANCISCO Special Edition | Foto: Chef Kathy Fang for MESA & BAR Magazine TOP CHEFS OF SAN FRANCISCO Special Edition

Chef Kathy Fang, The Adventurous Chef

Por: Edward Rueda

17, May, 2022 en Lavishly Style

The Adventurous Chef

Geraldine Zialcita

Food is never just a meal—a symbol—an unspoken word that gathers family, friends, and even strangers to experience beauty, love, and joy bite per bite. Chef Kathy Fang cooks and eats with a purpose―to live, love, and enjoy.

Kathy’s childhood dream was to become a pediatrician, yet the universe had other plans for her―to follow her father’s footsteps so she can spread her wings and diversify. As the daughter of Peter Fang, renowned chef and founder of the iconic House of Nanking restaurant, Kathy spent most of her childhood at the kitchen of her father’s restaurant Honk and tasted first-hand what the life of a chef entails. Honk served home-style Cantonese cuisine at North Beach San Francisco where Kathy learned to use pots and pans instead of playing with dolls.“I loved it, especially since I got to do a lot of things most kids didn’t get to experience at my age. I created sauces, learned how to produce soy milk from scratch before I turned ten, and always had dinner past my bedtime. My favorite time was searching for fresh vegetables at the market with my dad. He would designate me to be the first taste tester for many of his dishes, and I was a tough critic even as a kid,” she shares.

Kathy acquired her Bachelor’s degree in Operations Management and Entrepreneurship from the University of Southern California. After graduating from college, Kathy worked at Merrill Lynch and Johnson & Johnson. Her passion for cooking compelled her to pursue Culinary Arts at Le Cordon Bleu Culinary School Los Angeles. Her childhood upbringing, knowledge, and experience forged the way to becoming a chef.

Kathy believes that food serves as a medium where love can be expressed and shared in a tangible way. Her family expresses their love and care by cooking meals for one another. “We may not be emotionally vocal with each other but our love is demonstrated through acts of kindness, whether it’s fighting over who pays for the bill, or inviting each other over for a home-cooked meal, or dropping off home-made treats. Food also unites people together, be it families or friends—it’s universal. Food denotes beauty which can fill stomachs, hearts, the mind, and your soul.” She smiles.

Her biggest source of inspiration comes from traveling around the globe and experiencing different types of culture and food which have opened Kathy’s eyes to a bigger pantry. “Connecting with people over a table of amazing food inspires me. I’m fascinated by the way people eat and what they ate growing up because I was greatly influenced by the food my relatives, parents, and grandparents cooked for me,” she states.

Chef Kathy Fang for MESA & BAR Magazine TOP CHEFS OF SAN FRANCISCO Special Edition
Chef Kathy Fang for MESA & BAR Magazine TOP CHEFS OF SAN FRANCISCO Special Edition

As a frequent jetsetter, Kathy names a few of the countries that have created an impact in her life and on her cooking. “Maldives―The place is heaven with warm, crystal, and clear waters. The sand is the cleanest and purest sand I’ve ever touched and the sunsets are ever-changing and so colorful. The food is amazing and the people are beautiful, warm, and very hospitable. This is where you go to experience pure bliss. Bali expresses beauty, ranging from art, architecture, food, culture, to nature. Your money can go a long way there where you can experience five-star hotels, restaurants, and adventure without breaking the bank. You can be pampered, go on adventures, and find your own piece of heaven, no matter what your preference is. Ever since I was a kid, our family would travel to Hong Kong to eat and gain inspiration. The city feels like a home away from home since I spent almost every winter break there for a good part of my life. The city fostered my love for Chinese cuisine and allowed me to experience it on another level that I couldn’t have in San Francisco. The city is also super cosmopolitan, exciting, and bursting with energy from every level,” she informs.

After tasting a wide range of cuisines, Kathy has determined which ones are her favorites. Shanghai Soup Dumplings, Bun Bo Hue, Juni’s Ikura Nigiri with shaved Ankimo, Kam’s Roasted Goose over Rice in Hong Kong, Sanka’s Teppanyaki Wagyu with garlic chips, and wasabi, and In n Out’s Double-Double. Her first love has always been Chinese food but she also savors Japanese, Italian, and Vietnamese food. “A perfectly executed Omakase is the ultimate dining culinary experience. Each bite is to be enjoyed the moment it is served—you have time to relish each piece for what it is. It may appear simple to do, yet it’s complex and difficult to execute well―flaws can’t be hidden or masked—everything has to be done perfectly, for that one bite to make you say WOW. Italian is such a romantic and satisfying cuisine which is my favorite cuisine to cook at home and enjoy in a group setting. The cuisine lends itself to family-style and gathers people together. Plus, who doesn’t love carbs on carbs on carbs? Vietnamese is something I crave on a daily basis because the flavors tend to be lighter, brighter, and cleaner. When I don’t want a super heavy meal, Vietnamese fits the bill. They rely heavily on fresh herbs, fish sauce, citrus, spices, and aromatics. It’s not super heavy on sauces which can be a good reprieve from heartier cuisines like Italian and Chinese,” she narrates.

Staying true to her Cantonese heritage and classic tradition combined with the influence of her travels enabled Kathy to blaze the trail and launch Fang restaurant in partnership with her father. Implementing everything her father taught her, Kathy found the voice to include her own flair. “My Dad never really colored within the lines and neither do I. We cook Chinese food but with our own twist. We like to create our own versions of traditional dishes and have stuck with this at Nanking and Fang. Nanking always had its limitations when it came to creating more dishes, due to the size of its tiny kitchen. Fang was a long time coming for us. We always wanted to explore and expand our House of Nanking menu but couldn’t. Fang is five times larger than Nanking and has given us the space and ability to experiment and create new innovative dishes,” she conveys.

Chef Kathy Fang's Famous Pork Belly Bao for MESA & BAR Magazine TOP CHEFS OF SAN FRANCISCO Special Edition 3
Chef Kathy Fang’s Famous Pork Belly Bao for MESA & BAR Magazine TOP CHEFS OF SAN FRANCISCO Special Edition 3

Fang restaurant serves delicious Northern and Southern Chinese cuisine with a twist. Some of their most sought after dishes are Fang’s Famous Pork Belly Bao with pickled veggies, herbs and secret sauce, Fang’s Crispy Honey Chili Beef Shortribs with garlic bokchoy, White River Fish Soup with wontons, and vermicelli noodles, and Sizzling House Fried Rice which is prepared tableside on a hot smoking skillet. “People always mention that they have never had Chinese food this good or done this way. We serve familiar dishes like dumplings, wontons, and eggrolls, but our sauce is always different from the traditional sauces, or the fillings change in a way that is unique but also familiar,” she reveals.

Kathy’s father has played a fundamental part in her life and taught her basic principles that she could apply in cooking and life. “He advised me to keep an open mind with food. There is something to be appreciated in every cuisine, no matter how foreign and different it may be from what you are familiar with. While most of my relatives would stick to Chinese cuisine, my Dad would venture out with me and try all sorts of cuisines. It really helped foster my love for food and turned it into an adventure for us. To this day, we still feel this way when we eat out. This applies to the way you approach life, business, personal relationships, since keeping an open mind allows flexibility and adaptability,” she relays.

While this hard-working, passionate, and determined woman’s life revolves around cooking and food, it never feels like a job. Her career allows her to express her creativity where she can share her passion in a tangible way. “The creativity in my food is determined after you taste it. My food isn’t particularly fancy, and you can’t distinguish the twist by just looking at it. It all boils down to the taste, the way I create sauces, or combine flavors and textures. It’s all about how you feel after you taste my food. Our presentations are homier and sometimes portions can be on the larger side than what people would expect. That’s how I grew up, wherein my family would prepare more food than you can consume for dinner, usually seven to eight courses—portions that will last you a week. We want people to feel a sense of abundance. I get to witness first-hand the fruits of my labor. From kitchen to table, from fork to mouth, and the delightful reaction from the people. I have met most of my friends including my husband at Fang restaurant.” She winks.

Chef Kathy Fang for MESA & BAR Magazine TOP CHEFS OF SAN FRANCISCO Special Edition
Chef Kathy Fang for MESA & BAR Magazine TOP CHEFS OF SAN FRANCISCO Special Edition

Over the years of being a chef, Kathy has learned not to take things too personally since displaying a piece of yourself and your work invites scrutiny. “People will have all sorts of opinions about you as a chef, your restaurant, and more. People will say it to you, spread the word among friends, or write about it on social media. When I first started, I would read reviews on Yelp and get so worked up, but now, I barely read them. I’m at the restaurant all the time and can see the reactions from my customers in real-time. If I spot something that doesn’t look ideal, I’ll ask the customer myself how things are and gather feedback. I also receive opinions on social media regarding how a chef should look to be taken seriously. Again, I don’t take it personally. I’ve always done me and have stuck with that—whether it’s with the way I cook or the way I look. And I’m happy with where I am now, thirteen years into opening my own restaurant as chef and owner, I’ve been true to myself all the way through,” she says with conviction.

This versatile woman wears multiple hats and pushes the envelope further. Kathy’s newsletter, showcases stories and recipes. After giving birth to her first-born child, Kathy created a baby food company, Bon Petit Baby. She is also the author of Easy Asian Cookbook which features more than a hundred takeout favorite Asian American Classics. Kathy was one of the 100 writers selected by Facebook/Meta for their new platform. She plans to develop a line of Chinese-inspired products that people can use in their homes consisting of cookware, houseware, sauces, to food products. “If we could inspire people to cook Chinese food at home and make it easy, it would be a dream come true. And for this to blossom from the fame of our two family restaurants in San Francisco, it would indeed be an American Dream―an authentic brand that would represent our culture and our family,” she declares.

To keep a steady work/life balance, Kathy enjoys spending time with her family and kids during the weekends, Friday night dates with her husband, and special occasions with friends.

This dynamic woman loves being productive and excels in all her projects combined with keeping a fit and healthy lifestyle. “Fitness and health have always been important to me. I make time to work out, even if it’s for thirty minutes. I also benefit from being on my feet all the time at the restaurant where I’m constantly moving around. As far as diet, I eat pretty clean on weekdays, lots of salads, lean protein, and home-made broths. On weekends I eat everything and anything I want.” She smiles.

Chef Kathy Fang for MESA & BAR Magazine TOP CHEFS OF SAN FRANCISCO Special Edition
Chef Kathy Fang for MESA & BAR Magazine TOP CHEFS OF SAN FRANCISCO Special Edition

As she forges ahead, Kathy believes in being humble, working hard, being self-sufficient, and being good to others which are the values she learned while growing up. She offers practical wisdom for those who wish to pursue a career in the food industry. “Get out there and start working! The food business is one of the easiest to explore from the get-go. You don’t need to graduate from some fancy school to work in a kitchen. You can literally start right now. The barrier to entry is low for this field and people can rise from the barracks to the top of the ranks through hard work, perseverance, and passion. And lastly, think about where you want to be in the future and plot out your map to get there. Work at different places and gain experience, so you know what you love and don’t love about this field.”

A strong foundation in food, keeping an open mind, and constant learning propelled Kathy to be brave and a risk-taker in the way she cooks and eats. Her strong passion, integrated with her labor of love, and commitment have empowered Kathy to demonstrate the significance of food and achieve success. There are no boundaries for Kathy who is the bridge that links good food with wonderful people. Kathy Fang is The Adventurous Chef.