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Michael Chow on the 50th Anniversary of His Eponymous Restaurants

By Nicole Schubert | May 18, 2018 | Food & Drink National

After 50 years of decadent dining, restaurateur Michael Chow is celebrating his golden anniversary with an illustrated book, taking eaters on a journey through the MR CHOW dynasty by way of the world’s most renowned contemporary artists. Featuring an up-close-and-personal look into the history of MR CHOW expressed by fellow restaurateur Terence Conran, and curator Jeffrey Deitch, with commentary by Mr. Chow, readers will embark on a never-before-seen evolutionary adventure into this iconic restaurant.


Julian Schnabel, Untitled (portrait of Michael Chow), 1984. Oil, plates, and bondo on wood.

We sat down with Mr. Chow, to get the scoop on his new novel, his favorite memories of the last 50 years, the evolution of the MR CHOW dynasty, his favorite dishes, and more.

Tell Ocean Drive reader about the release of MR CHOW: 50 Years.
MICHAEL CHOW: I was preparing it for over 50 years, the actual release took me one second.

What can readers expect to find in this book?
MC: Art first, art and more art

What was your journey, creating the CHOW worldwide dynasty, and how does MR CHOW: 50 Years portray this journey?
MC: It all started when I ended up in London 12 years old alone at the time of the historical and now infamous London fog. In a split second, a Big Bang happened, I lost all my country my parents, my culture, my being. From that moment, to cut the long story short, I had an internal desire to connect the east and west and that’s the beginning of Mr Chow. Since all Chinese things are great my life has been devoted to connect the cultures and Mr Chow is the result.

Can you describe the art works representing your family, characterized by some today’s great contemporary artists?
MC: By good fortune all the greatest and most unique creatives visit Mr Chow throughout its five decades at multiple locations. In particular the artists in our all made their mark in our book and we are lucky enough to be portrayed by them.

Which work, would you say, is your favorite?
MC: If I must choose and I don’t like to do that, it's Peter Blake. It’s the first portrait of me and it’s the essence of Mr Chow and started my whole collection. I asked Peter to represent the antithesis of racism which he demonstrated very well by painting me yellow and portraying the essence of Chinoiserie which is the most racist vehicle. He was the right man to do it. It’s an important iconic painting because it’s so loaded.

Do you have a favorite artist?
MC: Julian Schnabel, he’s one of the greatest living artists, and it just so happens he did six portraits of my family in the book which is a very rich representation.


I saw Andy Warhol constructed a portrait of you. What was it like to work with one of the most infamous and talented icons in the art world?
MC: Fantastic. Andy asked me what I wanted and like ordering a club sandwich, I told Andy I wanted a negative/positive image, hold the colors, and lots of diamond dust. That’s what I ordered and that’s what I got.

Did you have a close relationship with Warhol?
MC: Not very close, but long.

When did you find a love for art and how did you bring MR CHOW and this love together? Your book describes MR CHOW as being a total work of art.
MC: Those are Jeffery Deitch’s words. I found a love for art since birth. From the minute I was born I heard opera music. Then I was painting in the 1950s and 60s. There’s no difference between who I am, which is an artist, and Mr Chow. If you are a true artist everything you touch is art.

When MR CHOW opened on Valentine’s Day in 1968, attended by pop culture icons including The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, did you have any idea then that art and pop culture were going to become so central to your restaurants?
MC: That’s the whole vision.

Which artist and or icon, were you especially excited to have dine at your restaurant that evening and through the past 50 years?
MC: Five decades is a long time. I would say from Marlena Ditrich to Lady Gaga is the best answer I can give you

The book is narrated by fellow restaurateur, Terence Conran, and curated, Jeffrey Deitch. What was it like to work with them on this book and the history of your family dynasty?
MC: Jeffery is single handedly responsible for me returning to painting after a radical sabbatical. Terence Conran I’ve known for over five decades and he’s always been an inspiration to me.


Tell me about the cover, an original piece by legendary artist Keith Haring circa 1986 of M as a ‘Green Prawn’ in a bowl of ‘MR CHOW Noodles.’
MC: It’s one of the greatest paintings, in my opinion, Keith ever did. He made me really ugly and as a Green prawn which is a famous dish at Mr Chow, but remember ugliness in art and ugliness in life are two different things

I want to ask about some of the pieces in the book. What is the artist drawing book and who captured drawings in it?
MC: I'm fortunate enough that I started in the beginning. It covers five decades and is rich with artists. It's almost a who’s who. It’s an amazing document of contemporary art.

And some of the items at MR CHOW are even works of art. How did you decide to create the MR CHOW crockery, matchbook, chopsticks, and serving spoons? Which artists helped in creating those?
MC: Ed Ruscha, David Hockney are on the match box, crockery has Cy Twombly's iconic drawing, you could call it a portrait of Mr Chow.

You say in the book, that every night at MR CHOW is like a musical. Explain to Ocean Drive readers the acts.
MC: You have the Front stage and back stage, the audience are the guests, the leading man is the Maître d, you have costumes, and the entertainment includes the champagne trolleys, the Beijing duck, the Hand pulled noodle show, wine decanter and the carving of the fish to name a few. But the most important thing is that every night we seek for that magic moment, and to make that happen every detail must be a universe.

My last question. What is the poem of life?
MC: I never read or wrote one but I wrote this one—I was shocked. It's a bio-poem and it’s based on love.

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