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155 East 55th Street (55th St. between Lexington Ave. & 3rd Ave.),
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In 1967, Michael Tong joined Chef Wang in opening Shun Lee Dynasty, in Manhattan, the first Chinese restaurant in America to popularize Szechuan and Shanghai cuisine. Shun Lee Dynasty became an instant success and was praised by food critics across the country for its authenticity, innovation and its impact on the American restaurant culture.
As a result of Shun Lee Dynasty’s success, Michael Tong realized that the public was definitely interested in a more authentic and exciting Chinese cooking in a luxurious and sophisticated environment. In 1971, he opened Shun Lee Palace on East 55th Street in Manhattan, and established himself as one of the premier Chinese restaurateurs in the country.
In 1972, Tong opened Hunan, the first restaurant in the US to present a Hunanese menu and the first Chinese restaurant to receive four stars from The New York Times. Finally, in 1981, Michael Tong opened Shun Lee West, opposite Manhattan’s Lincoln Center. Once again, Tong offered New Yorkers fresh ideas in Chinese dining with the including many unfamiliar regional dishes and the introduction of an enormous Dim Sum menu, which is served at Shun Lee West’s Café.
For the past thirty five years, over ten million diners have experienced the many dishes that Michael Tong pioneered, most of which have now standard fare on the menus of the more than ten thousand Hunan restaurants across the country. Tong has created thousand of jobs in America for Chinese immigrants. His influence, both here and abroad, on the past two generation of chefs and restaurateurs is immeasurable.
On June 13, 2001, at its 75th Anniversary Gala Benefit at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City, the China Institute in America honored Michael Tong – along with director Ang Lee, composer Tan Dun, philanthropists Houghton and Doreen Freeman, actress Michelle Yeoh, playwright David Henry Hwang, author Amy Tan, and Chinese historian Jonathan Spence – for his contribution in introducing China and Chinese culture into the mainstream of American life.
In September 2001, Michael Tong was invited, along with fourteen other Americans who are most prominent in the business, scientific and cultural community – “ambassadors” in their fields – to spend a week in Beijing as guests of the Chinese government.
In May 2006, Michael Tong was awarded the 2006 Ellis Island Medal of Honor, presented annually to American citizens of diverse origins for their outstanding contributions to their own ethnic groups, their ancestral countries, and to the United States.
Michael Tong’s book, The Shun Lee Cookbook, will be published by HarperCollins in 2007. He is currently working on plans to open a cooking school that will offer training to newly arrived Chinese immigrants, as well as assistance in helping them to adjust to the social and economic challenges of their new environment.
Michael Tong enjoys collecting rare Chinese recipes and cookbooks. He is the Vice Chairman of the China AIDS Fund and is active in New York’s Citymeals on Wheels. He has two daughters and two grandchildren, and lives in Manhattan.
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