When the Lawrence Chu family traveled this month to Las Vegas to attend the annual Awards Ceremony of the Chinese Restaurant News, they already knew the family restaurant, Chef Chu’s, was ranked as one of the top 100 Chinese restaurants in the country. They also knew the organization planned to recognize Chef Chu’s founder, Lawrence C. C. Chu, with the Lifetime Achievement Award of Excellence.
The surprise came in the last few moments of the Jan. 5 ceremony, held at The Venetian, when co-host Master Chef Martin Yan announced the Top 10 Chinese Restaurants in America: Chef Chu’s was among them.
It’s a major coup for Lawrence Chu, who established the popular restaurant at 1067 N. San Antonio Road 40 years ago.
“America is rich in opportunity,” Chu said. “I love to eat, I love to talk to people and I love to cook.”
This is the sixth year that Chinese Restaurant News has sponsored the Top100 Awards Show, a national event that recognizes, cultivates and preserves the best in cuisine among the more than 45,000 Chinese restaurants across the country.
To qualify for Overall Excellence, the award for ranking in News’ top 100 category, restaurants must be in business a minimum of two years and receive positive industry or customer recognition – 50 percent of its menu must offer Chinese-related cuisine. Final results are tabulated with votes from the general public and scores from Mystery Diner’s, a company that secretly assesses the restaurants.
Chu said his restaurant made the News’ top-100 list six years ago when the awards were first established. News’ officials have repeatedly offered him the award since then, but Chu said he declined.
“I wanted the award to rotate,” he said.
The Top10 Overall Excellence restaurants demonstrate the highest standards in cuisine, décor, service and cleanliness.
Chu’s son, Larry Jr., said the ceremony was packed with approximately 1,000 restaurateurs representing big names and chains in Chinese cuisine from Washington, D.C., to small “Mom & Pop” operations in Missouri.
Yan paid tribute to the restaurateurs’ hard work – 7 days a week, 12 hours a day, every day of the year.
“He really knew what it takes to run a restaurant,” Larry Jr. said.
Yan hosts the award-winning “Yan Can Cook” TV show and is himself a Chinese Restaurant News’ past top-10 award winner.
Chinese Restaurant News created the Top100 awards to recognize Chinese cuisine as a major part of American culture and cuisine. On an average day, Americans consume 2.5 million meals prepared in Chinese restaurants.
With more than 45,600 Chinese eateries across the country that gross more than $20 billion annually, Chinese food has become a fixture in the American dining scene.
“From suburban buffets to high-end restaurants, Chinese cuisine has become as American as apple pie,” said Betty Xie, editor-in-chief of Chinese Restaurant News. “With these awards, we acknowledge those restaurateurs who excel at the overall experience: exceptional food and magnificent service in beautiful restaurants. We salute all the winners of the Top100 in all categories.”
Other restaurants received recognition for best value, local favorites, top green restaurants, top Asian restaurants and healthful menus. But it was his father’s Lifetime Achievement Award of Excellence that filled Larry Jr. with pride. The award recognizes outstanding individuals in the Chinese restaurant industry whose pioneering spirit and demonstrated inventiveness throughout their careers has improved the industry and inspired others.
“It’s quite an honor,” Larry Jr. said.
However, Chu was a tad humdrum about the award.
“I got my (achievement award) a long time ago,” Chu said. “It’s my wife, Ruth. She believed in my dream.”
That belief and patience allowed Chu to put in those long hours, seven days a week, to pursue his dream.
“She raised five wonderful children while I was working at the restaurant,” he said. “It’s not easy to last this long.”
Chu co-founded the Asian Chefs Association, which supports local and world causes, has published a cookbook, attended a White House State Department banquet at the invitation of then Secretary of State, George P. Schultz and is the recipient of numerous local and national awards.
But above all, family and giving back to the community are his top priorities.
“Family is important – family is No. 1,” he said.
And helping others.
“That’s from my heart – I want to inspire others to do the same,” Chu said.
For a complete list of winners, visit www.top100chineserestaurants.com.
Contact Mary Beth Hislop at marybethh.latc.com.