Berkeley restaurants

Ed Schoenfeld, Chinese food impresario, dies at 72

Mr. Schoenfeld became obsessed with Chinese cuisine early on.

“I must have been 11 or 12 when I first went to The Great Shanghai on Broadway and 102nd Street,” he told the Serious Eats website in 2018. “I remember having my first spring roll! Not one Egg roller – it was thinner and more delicate.

As a teenager, he ate weekly at the Shun Lee Dynasty, which had opened in 1965, and embarked on an arduous program of self-education. He studied with Grace Chu, whose cooking classes and cookbooks introduced generations of New Yorkers to the intricacies of Chinese cuisine, and went on to higher education, so to speak, by hosting banquets with the best Chinese chefs in New York.

“When I found a particularly good chef, I would often come back to him, hoping he would dive deep into his repertoire showcasing his talent and artistry,” Mr. Schoenfeld told the website egullet.com in 2001. The Good fortune placed it in the hands of Lou Hoy Yuen, known as Uncle Lou, the chef of Mr. Keh’s Szechuan Taste, one of New York’s first Szechuan restaurants.

“I was exposed to a level of cuisine that most top professional chefs were unable to produce, and the standards and flavors I encountered gave me an education second to none,” said Ms. Schoenfeld. “Uncle Lou never explicitly showed me how to cook a particular item. Instead, he let me observe, like a master and student. I learned by watching, tasting, and ultimately trying to put my knowledge in practice.

He studied briefly at New York University before dropping out to host Chinese banquets, which he funded by driving a taxi. At the same time, he wrote a food and restaurant column, “Gravy Stains,” for the Brooklyn Heights Press newspaper. One evening, at Szechuan Taste, he ordered an esoteric soup of carp heads, thus attracting the attention of Mr. Keh, the owner. The two met, and in 1973 when Mr. Keh opened Uncle Tai’s, one of Hunan’s first restaurants in New York, he hired Mr. Schoenfeld as his assistant.

“I was a hippy-dippy guy, and he threw me in the tackiest blue tuxedo with a big frilly shirt and a bow tie,” he told the Restaurant Girl website in 2013. I found myself outside the front door of what was essentially the hippest Chinese restaurant in the country having never worked in a restaurant before.”

The mad rush ended after two years, when the war between rival factions in the restaurant’s kitchen made Mr. Schoenfeld a casualty.