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Top chefs Cecilia Chiang, Melissa King hang out with food fans

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Melissa King, of TV’s “Top Chef” fame, showed students how to prepare her blueberry mousse and red rice salad with crispy tofu in a promotion for House Foods tofu. (Leslie Katz/S.F. Examiner)
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What could be a better example of the diverse and tenacious talent in the Bay Area dining scene than the careers of Cecilia Chiang and Melissa King?

The esteemed chefs recently were in the spotlight: Chiang, to celebrate the six-part PBS series “Kitchen Wisdom of Cecilia Chiang,” which begins at 9:30 p.m. July 4 on KQED, and King, to showcase her affiliation with House Foods organic tofu.

Both are charmers.

Chiang was on hand for a festive June 30 bash at P.F. Chang’s in Emeryville, surrounded by friends, colleagues and family, including her son, Philip Chiang, co-founder of P.F. Chang’s, the Chinese eatery boasting 250 outlets.

“I’m so proud of Philip, I never say no to him,” said Chiang, to a room of admirers including restaurateur Gary Danko (who appears in the PBS show) and P.F. Chang’s executive Mike Welborn.

Chiang, often called “the Julia Child of Chinese food in America,” founded the Mandarin in 1961 in San Francisco. The upscale Chinese restaurant, which she ran for 30 years, was known for its authentic offerings — unlike the Americanized Cantonese food popular at the time — and its celebrity clientele including Herb Caen and hot young chefs such as Alice Waters.

Now in her 90s, Chiang told her fans, “I’m very happy because I don’t have to work anymore; you’re the ones who are going to feed me.”

Remembering the days when he was a punk kid at his mom’s restaurant, stealing Coke bottles to earn pocket money, her son Philip remarked how he’s currently enjoying his “pretty sweet job” as ambassador for P.F. Chang’s, and thanking others for doing the heavy lifting.

Still in the prime of her career, TV’s “Top Chef” competitor King led a down-home cooking class on June 28 at the Naked Kitchen, a pop-up spot in The Mission, where she showed how to make red rice salad with crispy tofu and blueberry tofu mousse. She also served delicious appetizers she created: tofu tomato “caprese” with soy ginger dressing with Thai basil leaves; tofu spring rolls with peanut sauce; and a to-die-for tofu hummus crostini topped with seasonal vegetables.

King, who has been eating tofu since she was a kid in Los Angeles — “silken, straight out of the pack, with sesame oil, soy sauce and sesame seeds,” like her mom taught her, or with preserved duck eggs — says her work with House Foods prompted her to experiment with blending tofu for the first time. Her blueberry tofu mousse sets up well, she says, because of a pectin-like component that’s natural in blueberries.

Cooks in attendance at the class seemed most impressed by her tip for what to do to make fried tofu specially crispy: coat it first in a mixture of equal parts potato starch, corn starch and rice flour. (It keeps the dish gluten-free, too.)

Having lived in The City for a decade, King says she’s now comfortable saying she’s a San Franciscan. Asked if there’s more TV in her future, she says, “Who knows? I’d love to do more.”

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