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iancheney28 karma

I was eating in a small Chinese restaurant in Ohio about ten years ago, with my best friend Curt Ellis, just off the highway, and as we sat there eating General Tso's chicken (our favorite) we began to wonder: who the heck was General Tso, and why are we eating his chicken? It seemed like an entertaining way to explore the wilder world of Chinese food in America. But we were on the way to make another film, King Corn, so the idea had to wait.

With the inimitable filmmaker Taylor Krauss, I filmed a few hours of footage in NYC's Chinatown on the search for the famous General, but our production didn't really kick into gear until we met up with Jenny 8 Lee. She'd done an entire chapter on the topic, so had a wonderful pool of resources we could use as we launched production on the film. Our other producer, Amanda Murray, came to us a few years later after working as a curator at the Smithsonian in DC.

With our team in place - including editor Freddy Shanahan, animator Sharon Shattuck, co-producers Lily Spottiswoode and Julia Marchesi, and musical geniuses Simon Beins and Ben Fries - we finished the film in about three years and premiered at Tribeca in April, 2014.

iancheney26 karma

Also, Herman Melville (who authored Moby Dick, featuring the coffee-swilling character Starbuck) was a 19th century contemporary of the real General Tso, Zuo Zongtang. Though I think it's highly likely they never met. Zuo was born in 1812, just a few years before Melville.

iancheney16 karma

Many dishes in America have been adapted to local tastes — so some of our favorites here might be pretty tough to find in mainland China. General Tso's is maybe the best example of this: it's a sweet friend chicken dish that you certainly wouldn't find in Hunan Province, ancestral home of the real General Tso. I'm not sure about Sesame Chicken, but my guess is it's similarly scarce in China, at least the way we make it here in the states in its boneless and breaded form.

iancheney15 karma

Jenny probably has some great insights here. All I want to say is SOUP DUMPLINGS. So delicious. A little tougher in the take-out world, admittedly, but worth ordering at a sit-down dinner.

iancheney14 karma

We certainly struggled to find folks who recognized General Tso's Chicken in China. (Although most recognized the General's name!) The sweetness is part of it, and the breadiness of the chicken, and the bonelessness (!) of the chicken -- those aren't common attributes of the kind of chicken dishes you might find, especially in Hunan province. And broccoli...not a Chinese vegetable!