I'm Honoring an Icon at Lunar New Year With Longevity Noodles

I'll celebrate Eileen Yin-Fei Lo’s legacy and life with food and gratitude.

Eileen Yin-Fei Lo; Longevity Noodles

Matt Carasella / Patrick McMullan via Getty Images; Jennifer Causey / Food Styling by Margret Monroe Dickey / Prop Styling by Claire Spollen

Last summer, I had the opportunity to meet a food expert who was an inspirational figure to me. I was asked to write about the significance and importance of Longevity Noodles, a classic dish from the Food & Wine archives that was created by the chef, instructor, writer, cookbook author and Chinese culinary authority, Eileen Yin-Fei Lo. This assignment, which started as a chance to spotlight a great chef, turned into something much more special to me.

I was able to reach Lo through her son, Steven, who set up our first phone call. When we connected, we talked about her life and legacy for almost an hour. We discussed how her career, in which she shared recipes from her family and Chinese culture, touched hearts and plates all around the world. And how her Longevity Noodles were part of every major event in her life, a symbol of her legacy. They were a sentimental favorite, but also praised for their delicious flavor and ease of preparation.

RELATED: Eileen Yin-Fei Lo Understood the Principles of Cooking and Eating Well 

As we wrapped up our conversation, she asked when we could speak again — not for an article, but just to stay in touch. Surprised and honored, I took her up on her request and called her two days later. That soon became our normal cadence, talking every few days for half an hour or so as she told me about her life and what she was up to. 

She told me how she met her late husband, and shared memories of her children and granddaughter. She explained how she navigated a career in the food industry as a Chinese woman and earned her reputation as a culinary legend. We laughed — a lot — as she told me stories and when she declared that noodles were superior because they were easier to digest than bread. She told me that most of what she knew about food, its meaning, truth, and preparation had been passed down from her grandmother. And she shared that as she grew older, she realized how truly wise her grandmother had been, noting that much of her cooking pays homage to her family. 

One day last fall, we decided to set a date to finally meet in person, so she could show me her cookbook collection, take me and Steven on a tour of Chinatown, and teach me how to cook some of her favorite dishes, including those Longevity Noodles that had first connected us. But then I didn’t hear from her for a few weeks. I reached out to Steven in early November to suggest some dates for us to meet before things got too hectic with the holidays. 

RELATED: Celebrate Lunar New Year with a Luck-Filled Feast

He texted to say that there had been some complications, but we would be able to make some plans after the weekend. But a few days later, Steven called me and told me that his mother had passed away. 

I was shocked and sad. And, immediately grateful for the time I had with her, and the hours she had spent with me, sharing her stories and recipes. Those phone calls and her generosity are something I will cherish for the rest of my life.

The Year of the Rabbit begins on January 22, 2023, and symbolizes prosperity and longevity. This year at Lunar New Year, I will remember Eileen and the longevity of her impact on the food world and on those who knew her. I'll take a stroll through Chinatown, visiting some of her favorite spots and picking up ginger and fresh noodles. As I remember her and the stories she shared, I will think about her laughter, and the color she brought to the stories she told. Lo's legacy and love of cooking will forever be treasured by me and so many others as we remember her contributions to the world of cooking. I’ll make Longevity Noodles in her memory, and as I twirl the noodles through the soy sauce, toasted sesame oil, vegetables, and ginger, will remember her telling me with a laugh, "You eat these noodles for longevity. Everybody wants longevity."

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