Ed Schoenfeld, a chronicler of Chinese food in New York and an owner of Manhattan’s Red Farm restaurants, died at his home on Friday morning following a prolonged battle with cancer. He was 72.
Schoenfeld emerged as an unlikely advocate for the city’s Chinese restaurants. The Brooklyn-born restaurateur was not Chinese himself, but over a five-decade career in the hospitality industry, the Jewish New Yorker documented the rise of the city’s white tablecloth Chinese restaurants in the United States, often in informal oral histories. In 2012, Eater referred to him as “a walking encyclopedia of Chinese food.”
His personal history with Chinese cooking dates back to the late 1960s, while working as a taxi driver in New York City. He studied under cookbook author and famed culinary instructor Grace Chu, organizing Cantonese banquet dinners — primarily for non-Chinese New Yorkers — on the side to supplement his income, according to his son Eric Schoenfeld, who recalls seeing classified ads for his father’s business.
In 1973, Schoenfeld helped restaurateur David Keh open Uncle Tai’s Hunan Yuan, which went on to become the city’s second Chinese restaurant to receive a four-star rating from the New York Times. He opened a number of restaurants, including the West Village’s Red Farm, an ode to Chinese-American cooking he opened with chef Joe Ng in 2011. It was an immediate hit, and locations on the Upper West Side and in London followed. In 2013, he opened Decoy, “a shrine to Peking duck” located beneath his original Red Farm restaurant.
Schoenfeld’s visits to the restaurants became less frequent after being diagnosed with liver cancer in August 2019, but he remained involved until the very end, Eric Schoenfeld says. “He checked the books every day.”
In addition to his son, Schoenfeld is survived by a wife, Elisa Herr; a second son, Adam Schoenfeld; and four grandchildren.