Recent Comments

    Kathy Fang: San Francisco’s Chef du Jour

    By David Landis, The Gay Gourmet–

    She might just be the current chef du jour in San Francisco. With two wins on TV’s Chopped and the first season of the popular Food Network reality series Chef Dynasty: House of Fang under her belt, chef Kathy Fang is riding high.

    Since 2009, she’s been the co-owner of the luxe Chinese restaurant Fang on Howard Street with her legendary dad Peter Fang (who founded the fabled House of Nanking in 1988). Now, Kathy is bringing new life and culinary ideas to the world of Chinese cooking. She does it with style, grace, humor, and smarts: the kind of person you’d want to share an evening with, over, say, a plate of her piquant chili sesame pork dumplings.

    The Gay Gourmet had the pleasure of talking with Kathy about all things Fang-related and here’s what she had to say:

    Gay Gourmet: What’s the secret to the success of the TV show?

    Kathy Fang: The biggest thing is the response I’ve gotten from the viewers who love it. The common thread is that people love the dynamic between my dad and me. The core of it is about family—this family business that I’ve inherited—preserving the legacy, honoring family tradition, and finding a way to pay back what my parents have accomplished. There’s a push and pull and I want my dad’s approval because I respect him. This business is about what my family has created; I want him to be part of that journey. Viewers are smart—they pick up on this. That’s the most beautiful part of this story. People see that and relate to that. People share with me their stories of family. It reminds them of how much their parents sacrificed for them. Sometimes we forget about it. It brings tears to their eyes, especially the last episode. People know that my dad is humble and hardworking. All the recipes are created by my dad and me. Dad works 7 days a week and it’s been very hard for our family to get to this point. We don’t want to lose sight of that. There are so many reality shows out there that are entertaining, but that’s why this is relatable. Much of the population lives like ours, immigrants with a certain level of success. Those are stories we’re celebrating. Those are the real stories.

    Gay Gourmet: What advice from your father (or mother) has helped shape your career and your life?

    Kathy Fang: The biggest advicefrom dad is “lead by example.” It gets me emotional. Keep your head down, work hard, and good things can happen to good people. My parents have always practiced that. We run our business that way, and we believe in giving people the best Chinese food experience. That’s getting the recognition now that the restaurant deserves. This all started from money we saved up. There’s something special about what my parents created. There’s something to be said for a restaurant that draws lines for over 30 years.

    Gay Gourmet: You’re very loyal to your staff. Sometimes, however, staff isn’t a great fit. What advice do you have for managers in tough situations?

    Kathy Fang: We’ve been pretty fortunate to have a very hardworking, loyal staff. I’m also a very devoted manager. You deal with people and they mean well, but sometimes they’re not helping themselves. It’s trying to understand where they’re coming from, and putting yourself in their shoes. Dealing with people is complicated. Rarely do you have black and white situations; it’s a tough call. It’s important to think about how you give people the extra olive branch. If you can let them see that you care, then when it doesn’t work, it’s not the end of the world.

    Gay Gourmet: Your show is a like a love letter to San Francisco. Was that intentional?

    Kathy Fang: Yes. Prior to the show being put together, there’s a showrunner who talks to you in advance to ask what you want to highlight. One of the top things I wanted to showcase is the city. San Francisco is a very distinctive town; it’s not a cookie-cutter city. The landscape, the neighborhoods—it’s just a striking and beautiful place. When you arrive at the airport, you’re taken aback by its beauty. I felt the city was being mislabeled. I told the showrunner that I wanted to remind people how gorgeous San Francisco is. What we need is for people to watch and realize how beautiful the people, the food, and the neighborhoods are. The show would not feel the same without that.

    Gay Gourmet: In some ways, your show reminds me of Vanderpump Rules, except that the food takes center stage, not the drama! Did Lisa Vanderpump influence your approach?

    Kathy Fang: No, I never actually watched Lisa’s show until I filmed my “interviews.” The first time I did it, I didn’t know what to wear. My assistant, Justin Escalante, thankfully has a great sense of fashion. He’s gay and he said, “I got you. Let me show you Lisa Vanderpump.” Lisa didn’t guide how I act on the show because I can only be myself, but she helped me figure out how to dress. The show wants you to wear the same outfit for every single interview and thank God I picked a good one!

    Gay Gourmet: Will there be a second season of Chef Dynasty?

    Kathy Fang: I hope so. This concept is a new one for The Food Network. If something works well, they’ll continue with it. They are seeing a lot of people loving the show. Some of the response was that they’re getting people who don’t normally tune in. They’ll have to do some market research and figure out the next step. For the people who really enjoy the show, I’d say go online and ask The Food Network for more. I would love a second season, but if we don’t get it, I’m fine with them doing another family. Business is doing great and now we have this time capsule about what we’ve created. That will never be lost.

    Gay Gourmet: Why is Chinese food often so mediocre? Is there a key to cooking it properly?

    Kathy Fang: I think it’s because many people who open Chinese restaurants are not true chefs. What separates the good ones are the ones who are artists, who study, and try to perfect it. That’s a particular mindset. People open restaurants for different reasons, and there’s a low barrier to entry. Some aren’t professionally trained, and may copy and repeat from a really bad choice. I think that’s starting to change. Right now, being a chef is way cooler than it used to be. It wasn’t glamorous when I grew up. Now, there are so many celebrity chefs. It’s becoming something people can aspire to be.

    Gay Gourmet: In many ways, you’re a modern version of Cecilia Chiang, who ran San Francisco’s iconic Mandarin restaurant for years. Like her, you’re a woman restaurateur who wants Chinese food to be upscale and who wants to reinvent the cuisine for modern diners. Did you ever meet her? Was she a mentor?

    Kathy Fang: I did meet her—she would come to Fang sometimes. I wish I could have been mentored by her but by the time I was in the business, she was older. When I met her, I was in awe of her. I wish I was old enough at the time to ask her for advice. You grow up sometimes in Chinese culture being reticent to ask for advice. I’ve learned to be better at that.

    Gay Gourmet: What are your favorite dishes on the menu?

    Kathy Fang: The garlic charred broccoli. People say, “It’s the best broccoli they ever had.” I did the “one night only” segment on the show and the charred broccoli. It did really well, but my dad couldn’t get over it, because it wasn’t Chinese. I changed it to “Western broccoli.” The reaction has been incredible. My all-time favorite: people call it a beef brownie. It’s a honey short rib that we cut into little cubes, with a crispy crust. It’s a little spicy, a flavor bomb, that’s served with a garlic bok choy. It has a little bit of all 3 of us from the family. This dish started with my mom. She took short ribs, and decided to fry them for herself for lunch. I thought, this needs a sauce. I made a version off menu with green beans, and people loved it. My dad saw it and wanted to add more punch with the garlic bok choy. That became a signature dish.

    Gay Gourmet: Talk about the uniqueness of sourcing from Chinatown’s markets. How is that different, say, from the Ferry Building—or sourcing directly from farmers?

    Kathy Fang: We love supporting local. Chinatown has always been our home. It’s the first place my family stepped into. They started sourcing from those markets when they opened House of Nanking. Because they’ve been sourcing from the same people for over 30 years, we have this relationship where we would be sad if we went to a different purveyor. Those markets rely on the Chinatown restaurants to keep them alive. It’s like an ecosystem. If we left, the supermarkets would close. We don’t want to do that. When we opened Fang, they used to deliver by foot. Sometimes we need two deliveries per day. If we go to a large purveyor, they won’t deliver every day. With farmers’ markets, we would have to go ourselves. The Chinatown markets will accommodate us. They say, “We’ll send the Auntie over.” When we opened Fang, we didn’t want to ask them to deliver. They said, “No—we will hire extra people for you.” Then, they hired one person specifically to do the delivery and they still deliver many things by foot. It’s a sweet, family community.

    Gay Gourmet: What are your favorite restaurants in San Francisco?

    Kathy Fang: I’m a traditionalist. I’ve been a fan of A16, Molinari’s, and Kokkari. Those are 3 places I try to patronize all the time. We try to go out to the Chinese restaurants. Peter likes New Regent Café for breakfast. My husband loves Japanese cuisine: Juni and Akiko’s.

    Gay Gourmet: What are your future plans for Fang and for yourself? Will you expand beyond the city?

    Kathy Fang: If there was a season 2 (for the TV show), I wish we could explore that topic and see what my dad thinks. That would be a great situation scenario. If dad feels uncomfortable, it’s not worth it to me. One of the exciting projects I’m working on this year is to write a cookbook/memoir with my dad. I’d like to go into great detail. We’d start with how dad fell in love with food in Shanghai, and share recipes from that experience. We don’t want those dishes to get lost. Then, we’ll cover his first experiences with American food, to the opening of House of Nanking, and then my first food exposure and what influential dishes I had.

    Gay Gourmet: So, I’m sure my readers want to know: “How’s the food at Fang?” In one word: phenomenal. I’m often disappointed by commonplace Chinese cooking that doesn’t measure up. At Fang, everything is fresh, delicious, hot, and satisfying—with spices that tantalize your palate. My favorites include the pork spare ribs that are fall-off-the-bone tender with just enough chili sauce for added punch; the pork buns, served in homemade sponge-y buns that are a perfect nest for a succulent pork belly; Shanghai pork won ton soup, made all the richer with bone broth and toasted rice; lotus chicken, cooked perfectly moist with a hint of ginger; the famous charred broccoli that is cooked through but still crisp and yummy; honey walnut prawns made more modern with an apple pear complement; and a sea bass that Kathy cooked especially for our group with mango and green beans, since one of us has an allium allergy. Don’t forget Fang’s famous fried rice, served on a sizzling plate with a scrambled egg—a winner.

    A sesame mochi was the tasty semisweet ending to a great meal. An added plus? A full bar with a great wine list, fairly uncommon at many Chinese restaurants in town. Service at Fang is efficient; it’s fun to meet the waitstaff whom you’ve seen on TV. It’s also nice that the restaurant feels upscale, but doesn’t break the bank. I’d describe the vibe as “buzzy chaos,” entertainingly like the atmosphere at your nephew’s bar mitzvah. As my friend Jackie explained, “You wouldn’t trust a Chinese restaurant without that.”

    Fang is fun, delicious, and a real treat. Go now!

    Fang restaurant:

    David Landis, aka “The Gay Gourmet,” is a foodie, a freelance writer, and a retired PR maven. Follow him on Instagram @GayGourmetSF or email him at: Or visit him online at:

    The Gay Gourmet
    Published on March 23, 2023