Exclusive: Kathy Fang takes us on a culinary journey in Chef Dynasty: House of Fang on the Food Network

Kathy Fang on the food line.
Kathy Fang looks through the kitchen line, as seen on Chef Dynasty: House of Fang, Season 1. Pic credit: Food Network

Kathy Fang takes us on a culinary journey in Chef Dynasty: House on Fang docuseries on the Food Network.

Kathy Fang, a noted chef and restaurateur serves up mouth-watering Chinese fusion dishes that challenge conventional culinary ideas at Fang, the extremely popular restaurant she co-owns in San Francisco with her father, Chef Peter Fang.

This father/daughter duo is a dominant force in San Francisco’s food world. Fang is now eager to expand their business while honoring their roots in the new six-episode docuseries Chef Dynasty: House of Fang. The series premieres on the Food Network on Tuesday, December 27.

As an adult, her concept for modernizing menus, risk-taking, and embracing young influencers doesn’t always go over well with the more traditional Peter, who has been called “the godfather of Chinese cuisine.” She constantly tries to convince him that they must innovate to expand and achieve what she coins “Chinese cuisine world domination.”

“The Fang family is royalty in the Bay Area – Kathy is an incredible chef, entrepreneur, wife, and mom who is dedicated to pushing culinary limits while staying true to her hard-to-please father Peter’s vision,” said Jane Latman, President of Home & Food Content and Streaming for the Warner Bros. Discovery channel.

“Their push-pull dynamic is sure to resonate with our viewers, who will be charmed and inspired by this family’s business and home life,” adds Latman.

Born and raised in San Francisco, Kathy Fang grew up in the kitchen of her family’s popular restaurant, House of Nanking, before opening Fang Restaurant with her father in 2009 as co-owner and chef.

Today, Kathy balances her responsibilities at Fang with pursuing her dream of teaching others to create easy, healthy, and delicious dishes with unique ingredients and flavors while making regular appearances on cooking and food competition shows.

She is a two-time Chopped champion on the Food Network and has also appeared on Alex vs. America, Beat Bobby Flay, and Guy’s Grocery Games. She is also the author of the popular Easy Asian Cookbook.

Read on for Kathy Fang’s fond memories of growing up in the family restaurant business, her admiration for her father, and the importance of being a positive role model for her two young children.

Monsters and Critics: What lessons or advice did your father Peter give you when you were little, and what it’s like to continue his legacy?

Kathy Fang: When my parents opened House of Nanking, I was about seven years old, and they couldn’t afford daycare, so I basically spent basically every waking hour at the restaurant. I was quite bored since there were no electronic devices at the time, and you can only color for so long, so I would help my parents out. I would ask them if I could help them with anything, like peeling eggs. Then I would graduate to being curious about how my dad would make sauces, and I’d always want to take everything that he would try or create for the first time.

M&C: How did you see your father as an innovator?

I always thought my dad was innovating with Chinese cuisine, even back 33 years ago when people were not doing a lot of creative things. Everybody was eating the same Chinese food; it was more like Cantonese than Hunan style back in San Francisco. So, my dad started putting his own twist on things.

M&C: Please give me an example or two.

My dad realized that Americans really liked sweet potato and yams, and they pair it with turkey at Thanksgiving, and he created Nanking sesame chicken, which is a crispy chicken that has a sweet and sour sauce with a little spice to it, and paired it with glazed yams. It’s kind of like that play of turkey and yams but with a Chinese flare to it.

He also discovered that Americans really enjoy peanut butter, and when he came to the US, he thought the peanut butter here was amazing. They didn’t have peanut butter like that back in China. So, he thought, I have to make the sauce with peanut butter because Americans love it, and so he made our house-famous peanut sauce that people still come for. We serve fried potstickers, fried onion cakes, and shrimp pockets, and all of these appetizers come with that signature sauce.

M&C: What are some other fond childhood food memories that you have?

While I was growing up, I remember our restaurant had this cult following. People would come to drive from Minneapolis and be like, “This is the one place we wanted to come.” They would sit down, and all four people in the family would be like, “An order of potstickers for each. And can we get a soup container of peanut sauce and take it home?” So, at a young age, I saw my dad’s success, and why people would travel far to see him was because he was doing something a little different. That’s something that spoke to me, and when I started experimenting at home and cooking at a young age, I would put my own spin on it. M&C:  Did your father encourage your culinary pursuits?

My dad didn’t actually push me to go into food. I would say from seven years old all the way through college, my parents wanted me to be the stereotypical Chinese girl; become a doctor or lawyer, but not a chef. They did not want me to take after them. It’s a hard job. So, it was never something that my dad was trying to impart knowledge to me so that I would take it over. It was more he was just sharing his passion with me. I happened to make a connection with him on it because I loved it, and I also had a passion for food.

Restaurateur Kathy Fang and father Peter Fang pose for a portrait at the block party for House Of Nanking, as seen on Chef Dynasty: House of Fang, Season 1.
Restaurateur Kathy Fang and father Peter Fang pose for a portrait at the block party for House Of Nanking, as seen on Chef Dynasty: House of Fang, Season 1. Pic credit: Food Network

M&C: Did your father recognize your talent early on?

He did say that he knew early on that I had something special when it came to food and cooking. From a young age, I would break down how to make a dish. If we would taste something, I would say, “Oh, I like this dish because the fish here’s, it’s more tender, and the sauce is a little bit more subtle.”  I’d always break down the dish without my dad even asking me. So, he says he recognized my talent, but he never pushed me to take over one day. I went into the corporate world, which bored me, and moved back to San Francisco and told my dad, “I want to come work with you at House of Nanking.”

So, I worked there for a year, then I went to culinary school, and my dad asked what my plans were. I knew I couldn’t take over House of Nanking because he opened it with my mom, it’s their thing, and they’re not going to retire anytime soon. So, I told him I wanted to open another restaurant, and my dad supported it and offered to help me and be my partner. And that’s how House of Fang was born. It’s our last name. Half of the dishes are mine, and the other half are my dad’s. We opened in SoMa, San Francisco, where all the hot tech companies are.

M&C: Tell me more about House of Fang.

The restaurant seats about 300 people, so it’s way larger than the House of Nanking, which seats about 40. We have operated Fang for 14 years, and working with my dad, I feel like I’ve done a lot of things his way as far as how he managed the business and how to make the business successful. The only thing that I feel like I’ve been able to put more input into is the cooking and the dishes that I create.
As the years have gone on, my father is really interested in keeping the tradition now because people keep coming back for these dishes 30 years later, so he feels why change and innovate? But sometimes, I feel like he forgot how House of Nanking got started and how it became popular. When it first opened, and he did the traditional Shanghainese Chinese food, it flopped. So, he started making these alterations like the sesame chicken with the sweet potatoes and all that. And that’s how the restaurant became successful; he started doing things that were different. But change is hard when you are 73 years old. He is like, “if it’s not broken, why fix it?”

Bun Rieu Crab Tomato Pho. A favorite dish of chef, restaurateur, and cookbook author, Kathy Fang. Pic credit: Food Network.
Bun Rieu Crab Tomato Pho. A favorite dish of chef, restaurateur, and cookbook author Kathy Fang. Pic credit: Food Network.

M&C: What are a couple of favorite recipes that you make a lot, either at home or at the restaurant?

So, cooking at home has become really important for me because I have two kids now; I have a two-year-old son and a five-year-old daughter. And because I grew up without my parents being at home, I was always eating meals at a restaurant. I make it a point to make home-cooked meals that are very traditional Chinese, so they can grow up with that.

One of our favorite things to make is actually this version of Chinese clay pot rice. It’s rice with Chinese sausage, Chinese smoked bacon, and chicken that’s been marinated, and we put shitake mushrooms and ginger, and it gets cooked over this rice. You add sweet soy sauce and sesame oil and mix it up and then steam it for another 15 minutes. And it has this beautiful fragrance to it. It’s like a total comfort meal. My kids love it. This is something that I grew up eating, and every time I smell it, I think of my family. And so that’s something I make a lot.

Another thing I love making is various soups that we call tonics in Chinese culture. We have this philosophy that drinking soups and tonics help cleanse the system. So, let’s say you’re feeling a little sick, like your throat is a little scratchy, then you put certain ingredients in your broth. So, I always make at least one or two pots of soup every week so my kids enjoy the soup with us.

Kathy Fang at a festival.
Restaurateur Kathy Fang is getting ready for the Napa Valley Festival dinner, as seen on Chef Dynasty: House of Fang, Season 1. Pic credit: Food Network

M&C: What about dishes to make at the restaurant?

My favorite thing to make is probably the buns because everybody comes in for the buns, our famous pork belly buns. This was something that I conceptualized when we first opened the restaurant, and it went through many different variations at the time. I went through all these iterations, and finally, the version that I’ve created is actually a steamed pork belly that melts in your mouth, and then we fry it right before we put it in the steamed little bun. We have a secret sauce that I like to call the secret In-N-Out sauce. It doesn’t taste like the In-N-Out sauce, but it kind of reminds me of that because people are like, “What is this sauce?”  It’s completely secret. We don’t even have a name for it. We just call it the bun sauce.

And we pickle our own vegetables, and we add fresh herbs and chili oil to it, and it’s like a two to a three-bite item that will blow your socks off. So, I love making that because I love seeing their reaction when it goes to the table, and the diners take that first bite, and their eyes go, “Oh my God.” When they stop in the middle of their conversation, that’s when you know your customers love the dish. That’s what we want!

M&C: What kind of role model was your dad for you? And what kind of role model are you for the two little ones?

The role model that my dad played for me is he, for one, is the hardest working person I know. And even to this day, I cannot beat him as far as who can work the hardest because my dad doesn’t take any days off. He takes two days off out of a year, and he’s been doing that since he opened the restaurant in 1988. I don’t know how many people can say that they do that. I really don’t.

And you would think that at this point he’s created a great level of success, he put me through university, the school gave me a very nice life, and you’d think that he would just be like, “Okay, I’m done, I can kick back and relax.” But that’s just not my dad’s personality. That’s just how he is. He’s very driven. He is so passionate about what he does it would be weird for him to not go to the restaurant. We tried that. We’re like, “Why don’t you stay home? Why don’t we go have a meal together and go take a walk?” It’s like pulling teeth with him. He feels uncomfortable. The restaurant is home to him. So as far as work ethic and someone who works like crazy, that’s one big thing that I look up to him more than anything.

M&C: And please talk about being a role model to your two little ones.

Yeah, for my two little ones, definitely the working hard aspect, the work ethic. I want them to be able to see, even though it gets harder and harder with their generation, because we’ve created a level of success where it’s hard for them to see the struggle. I saw my parents struggle when they first opened the restaurant. Like my husband works on a computer, but it doesn’t look like it is as demanding because it looks more like work if you are doing physical labor or someone is at the restaurant scrubbing and wiping the floors and cooking for 12 hours at a time.

So, I want to show them that you have to work hard to succeed in life. Never give up like my dad. And then have a good heart and be a good person. That’s something that my dad has been to me and to everybody else that he’s around. And I want to do that for my kids so that my kids can grow up to be good people. Good, hardworking people that have the drive and motivation to achieve whatever they dream to achieve.

M&C: Why do you encourage the readers to watch this series, especially during holiday time when people are coming together?

When people think of reality series or docuseries, they think of drama, and we are the exact opposite of that. Obviously, there’s going to be a little bit. There are always going to be some struggles, some push and pull, but at the end of the day, the dynamic between my dad and I is totally love and respect. That’s why we’ve been able to work together for more than 14 years.

My dad and I almost never fight. There’s a lot of level of respect, and I think people can maybe see and gain some insight into what that cultural dynamic is like between father and daughter. A lot of people came to the restaurant, and they remembered me being on Chopped. Obviously, the winning was nice, but more importantly, people always say, “Oh my god, the relationship that you have with your dad, it was so touching. How important it is to you to make him proud?”  So many parents would be like, “I’m proud of you for hearing that.”

I’m hoping with this series that it being during the holidays and everyone hopefully is with their family, that they can sit together and watch a very lighthearted family series. Yes, it’s the business, but at the center of it is really just family. Hopefully, that will inspire them, Asian people don’t give hugs, but hopefully, that’ll inspire them to be like, “Oh, I really appreciate my parents and I do want to make them proud,” and give each other hugs. And also learn a little about Chinese food.

Chef Dynasty: House of Fang premieres Tuesday, December 27 at 9/8c on Food Network and can be found streaming on Discovery+.

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