Hastings-Sunrise: Master Chef serves up cheap food with side of Chinese poetry

Charms aplenty at unpolished East Hastings diner

When a trio slides into a red vinyl booth at Master Chef Cafe for a late lunch on a sweltering July afternoon, Tony Fung brings icy water to the table in a reused plastic juice container.

When he delivers to the table a $1.75 plate of "May's world famous freshly cut fries," according to the worn paper menu, he jabs his finger at them and proclaims, "Cooked by order."

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Tony and May Fung, a Chinese-Canadian couple, own and operate Master Chef at 2481 East Hastings St. Tony serves and May cooks. Both are in their 80s.

When the Courier initially asks Tony a question, he replies: "English? Sorry."

But when he realizes he's talking writer to writer, Tony pulls out the honorary credential he received last year, a plaque for World Chinese Art Leadership from the China Artists Association in Beijing.

When he's not taking orders, chatting with friends or reading his mail with a magnifying glass, Fung is writing classical Chinese poetry in his truly old-school diner where red vinyl stools line a long lunch counter and wood panelling covers the walls. He says he writes about the economy, culture and politics.

His work, photo and biographical information have been published in China.

But it's not something he talks about much with the Chinese community in Vancouver. Instead he focuses on the day-to-day.

"I am a good worker and hard worker and good for the social people," he says.

Tony hails from Canton, China, where he taught elementary school teachers. Sick of the politics, he moved to Hong Kong. He and May married in 1950 and in 1966 they immigrated to Canada with the first three of their four children.

Tony says he only studied English for one year in 1967, two hours a day in a church in Chinatown. He speaks Cantonese, Mandarin, a Chinese dialect and Spanish.

He and May owned a restaurant in Edgemont Village in North Vancouver from 1970 to 1990, when their landlord reclaimed the space.

"I retired for two years and then my wife wanted to work," he says of his May, who sometimes wears a white cook's cap that's so tattered you can see tufts of black hair on top.

They took over Master Chef Cafe from a friend in 1993.

"I still want to work because I like to make the friendship," Tony says.

He's proud their prices are affordable to everyone, that he doesn't discriminate based on class and that he makes regulars feel important by anticipating their orders.

"I'm doing my good job and taking the life resources," he says. "I don't care the people get rich."

Tea and toast costs $2, a cheeseburger deluxe and fries $4 and a roast turkey dinner with cranberry sauce $9.50.

Tony feels fortunate for his family, his health, his ability to make a living and his friendships.

One of his sons has a masters of business administration and works in the financial world in Hong Kong. His other son is a mechanic in the United States. One daughter received her teaching degree from Simon Fraser University and his other daughter works in an automotive body shop. Portuguese, Italian and Croatian men visit the diner and chat with Tony every day.

"I get a life no trouble," Tony says. "All the people no fight, all the friendship, how good, how excellent."

crossi@vancourier.com

twitter.com/Cheryl_Rossi

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