This recipe gives back to the Forrest E. Powell Foundation Evanston Work Ethic Program. The Evanston WE Program exemplifies the FEP Foundation mission in action by providing ambitious ETHS (Evanston Township High School) students with comprehensive, pre-professional career/tech preparation through mentors, workshops, counseling, and financial assistance.
OWNER SANDY CHEN’S STORY
Born in the city of Wen Zhou in the Zhe Jiang Province of Southern China, a small village just south of Shanghai, Sandy Chen began her culinary journey at a young age preparing meals for her large family. Growing up with four siblings and sixteen first cousins all under one roof – Sandy was only ten years old when she learned the art of cooking traditional Chinese cuisine. Limited access to ingredients presented challenges to this young chef in delivering consistently delicious meals to her family. But before long, she took the place of her mother in the kitchen along with the task of feeding her entire family.
Sandy’s culinary inspiration came from her father, a personal chef, who moved the family to the U.S. in 1984. Her father taught her how to integrate both Eastern and Western ingredients into her cooking. She found that ingredients were now more accessible and she quickly became accustomed to her favorites including crabmeat, wonton, walnuts, shrimp, and glazed orange chicken among other dishes.
During her High School years, Sandy worked at local Chinese restaurants (Little Szechwan House and Tang Dynasty) to help fund her future college education at the University of Illinois Chicago where she studied accounting. She eventually applied her degree to work in accounting at Tang Dynasty while remaining thoroughly engrained in the day-to-day operations. While she had originally entered the industry to fund her education, between her childhood passion for food and her business background, she fell in love with the world of restaurants.
In 1994, Sandy took over her first restaurant, House of Dong Yuang where she had worked as a server for a short time. When the owner, Mr. Chiang was getting ready to retire, he had asked her to buy his restaurant. After she took over, the name and spirit of the restaurant changed to Chens – she spent five years building the business, before expanding into a bigger space. Sandy maintained the same staff, including the chef that she had personally trained and who is still with the company to this day. She attributed the success of Chens to both luck and ambition and ten years later, she decided to take that luck and ambition to the North Shore. Sandy opened Koi Fine Asian Cuisine and lounge just in time for the Chinese New year in 2004 –– in 2017 it was voted as Best Asian Restaurant in North Shore Chicago by Make it Better Magazine.