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Something Inside of Us Sleeps, The Sleeper Must Awaken

S.F.’s House of Nanking family stars on new Food Network series ‘House of Fang’

When Kathy Fang recalls her childhood at her parents’ restaurant House of Nanking, one of Chinatown’s most famous establishments, her memory is split distinctly between the good and the bad. 

She starts with the bad.

Outside of school, Kathy was stuck spending most of her days at the Kearny Street business her parents, Peter and Lily Fang, opened in 1988 and ran single-handedly. She’d color. She’d try to talk to patrons, if they’d be willing to interact with a bored kid. She’d help out here and there, wiping cutlery and bringing drinks to tables. Kept late on school nights after closing, she’d assemble a makeshift bed, pushing two dining chairs together and using a jacket as a pillow. 

“There are a lot of times when I felt resentment for the career choice that my parents picked,” Kathy, now 40, and the subject of the new Food Network docuseries, “Chef Dynasty: House of Fang,” said recently over Zoom. Her parents, she once thought, cared only about the restaurant and making money. “And it’s exactly the opposite. They work so hard so that I don’t have to work as hard, so that I have better opportunities.” 

Even so, it’s difficult to say whether Kathy, a two-time “Chopped” champion and co-owner of House of Nanking’s sister restaurant, Fang, works any less hard than her parents did. (Or still do; Peter, 74, and Lily, 73, continue to manage the restaurants full time.)

The good of Kathy’s childhood, then, can be found in her early and ingrained exposure to a chef’s life: the food, the organized tumult of the kitchen, the sociability of a lifelong front-of-house glad-hander. All the skills and abilities, in other words, that Kathy would need when she, stifled and uninspired, left the corporate world in her 20s and returned home to join the family business. 

Guests enjoy lunch in the outdoor seating at House of Nanking restaurant, a Bay Area restaurant institution, in San Francisco, Calif. on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020.Brittany Hosea-Small/Special to The Chronicle

Most crucially, being a daughter of House of Nanking meant understanding a particular vision of Chinese American cuisine, one that made her father a staple figure of San Francisco’s food world. Today, their relationship as collaborators, a loving push-and-pull dynamic between generations, forms the core of the new show, which premieres Dec. 27 on Food Network and streams on Discovery Plus.

“This (show) is just something that I couldn’t even dream of — our little story, that my dad created something with my mom. Every time I think about it, I think about how much hard work my parents put into it,” said Kathy, choking up. “So I hope people actually see that, and they understand why my relationship and dynamic with my dad is the way that it is. We’ve come a long way.”

When Peter and Lily opened House of Nanking, it came after years of toiling in restaurants, while the three of them lived in an SRO in Chinatown, then later on the border of the Tenderloin. “It was hard,” Peter recalled. “I worked three to four jobs, sleep maybe five hours and work again all day. I served tables, was a bartender at night.”

Dani Tan, left, and Peter Fang, right, check on a table of customers enjoying lunch at Fang in San Francisco, Calif., on Wednesday, December 14, 2022. Kathy Fang, daughter of the family behind San Francisco Chinatown classic House of Nanking, stars in a new Food Network docuseries, "House of Fang," which debuts Dec. 27.
Dani Tan, left, and Peter Fang, right, check on a table of customers enjoying lunch at Fang in San Francisco, Calif., on Wednesday, December 14, 2022. Kathy Fang, daughter of the family behind San Francisco Chinatown classic House of Nanking, stars in a new Food Network docuseries, “House of Fang,” which debuts Dec. 27.Salgu Wissmath/The Chronicle

With House of Nanking, named for the region of China that Lily’s father was from, Peter was determined to offer new ways to eat Chinese food.