Peng Chang-kuei, the legendary chef credited with inventing General Tso's Chicken, died from from pneumonia on Wednesday in Taipei, Taiwan News reports. He was 98.
Born in 1919 to an impoverished family from Changsha—the capital of Hunan Province in South Central China—Peng began his cooking career at the age of 13, studying under renowned chefs and catering to leaders of the Nationalist party. But once the Nationalists were defeated by the Communists in the Chinese Civil War, Peng was forced to flee his home for Taiwan.
Peng would go onto launch his own popular, Hunan-style restaurants in Taipei—as well as in New York and his hometown of Changsha—but his crowning achievement was inspired by a visit from an admiral in the U.S. navy in 1952. According to an interview with China Times, the chef tried frying chunks of chicken in different spices after serving his American guests his standard dishes for the first three days of their stay.
"General Tso's chicken did not preexist in Hunanese cuisine," he told NPR in 2007, "but originally the flavors of the dish were typically Hunanese—heavy, sour, hot and salty."
Once Peng moved to the U.S. in the 1970s, he altered the dish slightly to appeal to the American pallet, adding more sugar. Eventually, Peng would become a close friend of Henry Kissinger during his tenure as secretary of state, and appeared in the popular 2014 documentary, The Search for General Tso. And though Peng's role in creating the recipe hasn't always received the credit it deserves, General Tso's Chicken has become one of the most iconic Chinese-American dishes in the country, inspiring homages at thousands of restaurants across the U.S.
Still, the tail-end of 2016 has been a rough period for inventors of beloved American dishes in general. Earlier this week, Michael “Jim” Delligatti, the creator of the McDonald’s Big Mac, also died at the age of 98.
[via Taiwan News]