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Thursday, July 16, 1998 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Restaurateur And Chef Jack Dong Savored His Years In The Kitchen

Seattle Times Staff Reporter

Hep Tai "Jack" Dong considered cooking a high art and a calling.

He began as a dishwasher after emigrating from China to Seattle. By the time he retired in 1981, he had owned two cafes and served as longtime head chef at restaurants owned by the Art Louie family, including Louie's Cuisine of China.

He liked cooking so much he worked six 12-hour shifts a week.

Then he'd stay home Sunday, putter in his vegetable and flower garden, and cook some more, savoring the hours it took to prepare a banquet for family or friends.

"He'd take guests into the kitchen to show them how to `build' a Peking duck," said his daughter Tina Vegelante of Boston. "Preparing banquets at Louie's restaurants were his pride and joy."

Mr. Dong died of cancer Sunday (July 12). He was 80.

After leaving southern China at age 15, he worked in the International District. By 1949, he had saved enough to buy the Victory Cafe. He later sold that cafe and then owned the upscale Kiang Nam from 1952 to 1958.

He subsequently worked as head chef in the Louie restaurants, including a small restaurant in the International District, Art Louie's Uptown, and finally the Ballard Louie's.

"He really put a lot of love into it," Vegelante said. "I remember when I was a child, seeing him make out his lists, then get on the phone and order all the fresh vegetables and chicken from Chinatown. He was very explicit about what he wanted for dishes he would prepare that day."

Alvin Dong of Denver remembers his father's kindness, thrift and integrity. He also remembers his courage and determination to succeed and to see his family succeed.

"The most important things were the values he passed on to his children," Dong said. Those values included freely given friendship and community service.

"He was typical of his generation of Chinese who came to Seattle years ago," said his daughter Stella Dong, a New York City author. "He was an old-world Chinese person, but because he'd been in this country so long, he couldn't have gone back. His attitudes had become too American. Traditional Chinese don't speak of death. But he'd say, `When I'd die, I'd like this and this done.' "

No other immediate family survives. Mr. Dong's wife of 10 years, Fannie Dong, died in 1958.

Services have been held. Remembrances may go to Nikkei Manor, 718 Sixth Ave. S., Seattle, WA 98104.

Carole Beers' phone message number is 206-464-2391. Her e-mail address is: cbee-new@seatimes.com

Copyright (c) 1998 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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