Meet Sherman Wing

Written by Marilyn Rhodes on .

Born and raised in central California, Sherman Wing is a fourth-generation Chinese-American who’s lived in Indian Hills since 1993. Although he studied for a career in electronics, food has always been an important part of his life.

Friends attest that Sherman is a fabulous cook and gracious host, traits inherited from his huge family. He is a student of Prem Rawat’s, a teacher who believes that the individual’s need for fulfillment can be satisfied by turning within to contact a constant source of peace and joy. Rawat conducts events worldwide; and in years past, Sherman assisted in catering of some of them. He has also worked in the natural foods industry since 1973, long before it was in vogue.

Sherman came to Colorado in 1979 to work for Rainbow Grocers, one of the first natural food stores. He and his wife traveled extensively in Colorado and to faraway places like Alaska, Mexico, India and Australia during their 30-year marriage before she died of cancer.

Sherman’s heritage and culinary tradition

To know Sherman, you must know a bit about his family. China Alley in Hanford, California traces its roots to 1877 when the Central Pacific railroad was extended westward into the area and the new town of Hanford was formed. Numerous Chinese came to the area, many initially to help build the railroads, but others came for farming and agricultural purposes.

One has to go back to 1883 to find the origins of the Wing restaurant dynasty that lasted five generations in the San Joaquin Valley of California. Sherman’s great-grandfather, a migrant who had fled from political persecution in China to California, cooked for the Chinese railroad workers and opened a small noodle house restaurant. The restaurant was located in the central part of the block on China Alley where shops, gambling houses and opium dens were frequented by the local Chinese population. Today, China Alley has the oldest Taoist temple in America.

Sherman’s grandfather came to California in the 1920s and took over the family restaurant business in 1923, transitioning to more traditional Chinese food. China Alley faded into ghostlike obscurity due to the exodus of the 500 or so Chinese after World War II. During the 1950s, Sherman’s father and his siblings purchased additional buildings in an effort to preserve a dying China Alley, owning most of the property there by the 1950s. Expansion of the Chinese Pagoda, one of the top Chinese restaurants in the country, served as a catalyst for the revitalization of China Alley. In 1958, the Imperial Dynasty opened its doors. Sherman’s father, head of the family, was instrumental in establishing the early reputation of the Imperial Dynasty, filling the wine cellar, a former opium den, with collectible California and French wines, creating what was considered at the time the greatest personal wine cellar in the world. Sherman’s father was president of the California Wine and Food Society for many years.

Sherman’s uncle was one of the creators of chinois cuisine – what he called “French cooking with a Chinese accent.” His uncle had been chosen by Five-Star Army General George C. Marshall, to be his personal cook and later to accompany him to China as his Chief Aide and food taster. He was fluent in Chinese and well-educated, both desirable qualities for an aide. After WW II, the uncle learned French cooking from Chiang Kai Shek's French cooks and believed you should “try to be in harmony with your food.” Imperial Dynasty gained reputation and honors. An elegant restaurant in the middle of nowhere, the Imperial Dynasty boasted a long list of celebrity diners, including Walt Disney, Bing Crosby and Julie Andrews. The uncle was invited to cook his famous escargot recipe at President Ronald Reagan’s inauguration, but declined, as he was reluctant to be away from his restaurant and necessitate the closure of his restaurant to its faithful diners.

Although Sherman hasn’t spent much time in Hanford since the 1970’s, the Imperial Dynasty was always a family affair and the Wing family was very close.

The Chinese Pagoda closed in 1970 but for nearly 50 years the Imperial Dynasty was a world-renowned restaurant. In February 2006, Imperial Dynasty closed, ending the 123-year Wing restaurant presence in China Alley.

Sherman’s family

Sherman’s mother lived on Kauai when Pearl Harbor was bombed and even noticed one of the Japanese planes flying over the morning of the attack. At 18 she and her sister were drafted into the service to help with the war effort before Hawaii achieved statehood. They were hand picked along with about 300 non-Japanese young women to run radar and communications, guiding lost pilots back to their base. The highly secretive job caused many to think the girls were prostitutes. She came out of the war a lieutenant.

Durng the war Sherman’s dad was a counter-intelligence spy in the Pacific – in the Philippines, China and Australia. His parents met after the war and married in Hawaii, later moving to Hanford where they raised their family of seven children. Sherman’s father loved to fish and hunt and, as a young man, would stock lakes with trout using mules and horses. Sharing his father’s love of the outdoors, nearby Sequoia National Park was one of Sherman’s stomping grounds. The park is famous for its giant sequoia trees, including the General Sherman tree, one of the largest trees on Earth and Sherman’s namesake.

Sherman is extremely proud of his heritage and the unique culinary tradition his family established, catering to those who sought good food, good wine and good taste. The restaurant became famous not only for its unique gourmet chinois menu and the restaurant environment itself, but for the cordial Wing family members who staffed the restaurant. Three generations of grandmothers, mothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins staffed the restaurant.

Sherman’s uncle sincerely believed that, in order for a dinner to be properly appreciated, the diner, the waiter, the sommelier, and the chef should be united together in good harmony. The creation of such harmony has been a theme in Sherman’s life, too.

Sherman has worked as a manufacturer’s sales rep to natural food stores since 1988 traveling throughout Colorado and Wyoming. He is an avid birder and a nature and wildlife photographer who shares his photos with Evergreen Audubon where he is an active member.  He is also a member of the Denver Field Ornithologists and has conducted bird monitoring and field trips for each group for the last decade.

Sherman is about to embark on a new adventure. In recent years, he has reconnected with an old friend in Hawaii and the friendship has blossomed into a relationship. He is about to retire, or at least semi-retire, sell his home in Indian Hills and move to the new home he has already purchased on the Big Island in Hawaii.