Inventors are inspirational. Joyce Chen was an inventor, Chinese chef, restaurateur, author, educator, television personality, and entrepreneur. She helped establish and popularize Chinese cuisine in the United States. She invented and patented the wok (or stir fry pan).
Joyce Chen was born on September 14, 1917 in Beijing, China. Hers was a high ranking family in the Qing dynasty. She learned to cook watching her mother and governess cook. She married Thomas and had two children Henry and Helen. In 1949, when communists were gaining power in China, her young family moved to the United States. They settled in Cambridge, Massachusetts and Joyce and Thomas had another son, Stephen.
In 1958, the Joyce Chen Restaurant opened. She pioneered the all-you-can-eat Chinese dinner buffet here to help with slower nights and to introduce authentic dishes to their patrons. Chen introduced Peking duck, moo shu pork, potstickers, and more to the public. In 1967, The Joyce Chen Small Eating Placed opened. A restaurant was briefly open from 1970 until 1973 near MIT and Harvard. Another restaurant named the Joyce Chen Restaurant opened in 1973.
In 1960, following the opening of her first restaurant, Chen began teaching Chinese cooking at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education and the Boston Center for Adult Education. In 1967, her cooking show Joyce Chen Cooks aired on PBS. In 1972, Joyce Chen’s China documentary aired. The year before, in 1971, Joyce Chen launched a line of Chinese cooking utensils including the flat bottomed wok and cutting boards. In 1982, “Joyce Chen Specialty Foods” began selling bottled sauces.
Joyce Chen was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 1985. She succumbed to it and died in 1994. Joyce Chen has been and continues to be celebrated and honored. Her children and student chefs of hers have continued to spread Chinese traditions and cuisine. Be inspired! Have a bright day!