In Memory of Fifi Chao, OC Food Columnist

“Fifi and I always joked about being the two old food ladies in the OC culinary world. Maybe two old food babes is more accurate? We laughed about it, and took joy in the careers that we loved.” ~ Cathy Thomas

With a heavy heart, I am saddened to report the loss of Fifi Chao in our food community on Monday. A staunch supporter of local chefs and restaurateurs, her column in the Orange County Business Journal began in the early 1990s and remained for 26 years. My introduction to Fifi’s writing was a dining review back in the early 2000s. You want to talk about media— she was the OG influencer. She was Facebook, Instagram and Twitter before they ever existed. Hell, we followed each other on Snapchat.

Chao’s personality was as vibrant as her style. Her kindness towards fellow industry writers only made me respect her more. When Capital Noodle Bar first opened in Irvine, we crossed paths as she was on her way out with husband Patrick. We did what any two food people outside of a new place would do: we compared notes. Yet that was nowhere as epic as the time we shared a table at Fig & Olive’s grand opening, where she ripped into a (non-food) writer for being an idiot. Sans filter is how I knew Fifi, and it’s how I’ll fondly remember her.

Fifi Chao is survived by her husband Patrick, their son Kevin, their six grandchildren and six great grandchildren. To assist Patrick Chao and the rest of Fifi’s family during this difficult time, Break of Dawn restaurateur Dee Nguyen is hosting the appropriately-named fundraising dinner, Fifi’s Best, on November 30. Featuring many of her favorite chefs, the $200, limited-seating menu is one impressive rundown. Inquiries can email de*************@gm***.com for availability.

Dean Kim/OC Baking Company
Bread: lardo, leek, maple, anchovy

Joel Harrington/Lido Bottle Works
Scallop: cauliflower, miso, truffle, yuzu

Greg Daniels/Provisions Market
Foie Gras: huckleberry, matsutake, barley

Yvon Goetz/The Winery
Black cod: octopus, merguez, flageolet

Amar Santana/Broadway/Vaca
Duck: “bastilla”, chestnut, kumquat

Rainer Schwartz/Driftwood Kitchen/Hendrix
Snake River Farms whole roasted tenderloin: wild mushrooms, salsify, Napa wine love

Dee Nguyen/Break of Dawn
Cookie and Cream: corn, persimmon, enoki

Tarit Tanjasiri/The Crema Cafe and Bakery
Tarte tatin: vanilla bean

To conclude this post, it’s only fitting to have another hard-working professional share their earliest memory of Fifi Chao. So take it away, Cathy Pavlos.

“The first time that I met Fifi Chao was at Lucca in 2006, not long after we had opened. She arrived with Patrick one day to have lunch and check us out. Unfortunately, we had already closed for lunch, all of the cooks had left, and the equipment had been shut down. She introduced herself to Elliott and I with her customary flare and impish charm.

I was trying to explain to them that we had closed for lunch (while thinking to myself “Who IS this woman?” I mean, her hair looked like it had made a forced landing on her head, and both of them were talking nonstop, interrupting and contradicting each other, and that damn twinkle in her eyes. . . ). Needless to say, she was not taking no as an answer very well . . . and I was stressing out over what to feed them (and I wasn’t getting a word in edgewise).

Elliott had just sat down at the bar to eat his lunch, and he had his fork poised to dive into a bowl of Penne with Sunday Sauce. With a sweeping gesture, I snatched Elliott’s bowl away from him, just as his fork was coming down, and presented it to Fifi and Patrick as a specialty of the house. They ate the Sunday Sauce, raved about it, and then came back with me to the kitchen where I prepared some antipasto items from the cheese shop for us to taste.

We talked about Italy and France, and the state of the Orange County food scene. I fell in love with them that day— both of them, because when I think of Fifi, I think of Patrick, and always, always, with a smile.”

 Your dinesty will always be a part of Orange County history, Fifi.

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