ADAMS -- Many area patrons would feel lucky knowing the series of chances that landed Kai Man Chee, owner and head chef of Chee's Chin ese Cuisine at 13 Columbia St., in the Berkshires over 30 years ago.
The story begins in Hong Kong, where Chee was born and lived until the age of 21, followed by a short layover in New York City's Chinatown, and winds up at the current location. In November, the restaurant will celebrate its 25th anniversary there.
"People joke about ‘the land of opportunity,' but it is compared to Hong Kong," Chee said. "It's overpopulated and the opportunity is not there. America was an unknown, and it's scary to just go. But you have to do it."
The years between his initial move and his current restaurant is one of "hard work, long hours and fresh ingredients."
"The recipes come from the cooks who taught me -- they're not written anywhere," Chee said. "It's a matter of doing it over the years, sticking with a technique and keeping it fresh."
The technique, as locals will confirm, involves poultry preparation, specific pork marinades, soups and a variety of rice dishes.
Chee began, a complete cooking novice, as an appetizer cook at Tahiti in Pittsfield -- then located at the current Debbie Wong Restaurant building in 1980. He heard about the opening from a friend, and left Chinatown, where he'd been staying with his older sister. At Tahiti, Chee learned his technique from the chef, Charlie Ng.
From there, Chee moved with the restaurant to the Green Acres Plaza in Cheshire, and within a few years, had bought Peking Restaurant in North Adams, his first experience as a head chef.
After that business closed, Chee bought the Columbia Street building, at the time a diner called Kelly's on the Corner, in 1987.
"I noticed that a lot of my customers came from Adams," Chee said, "and I was starting a family, so it seemed like the right idea. But I've surprised myself. I never figured I'd still be here 25 years later."
Chee has four daughters and a son.
The business is a pillar of Columbia Street, with over 20 full and part time employees. According to Chee, the clientele is consistent, and certain days of the year, like New Year's, famously busy.
"It's crazy," Chee said, "I don't know what it is -- Chinese food on New Year's? But, definitely, it's our busiest day."
Chee said he starts cooking at 7 a.m. on, and the restaurant takes six orders per 15-minute time slot -- first-come, first-served -- throughout the day.
"I appreciate the support of the town of Adams," Chee said. "It's been very fortunate."
Outside of the restaurant, Chee enjoys cooking more traditional Chinese dishes.
"The restaurant is Americanized Chinese food, but when I cook, it's more like what we ate when I was growing up -- whole chickens, baked fish, duck, with ingredients from Chinatown."
Regarding the future of the business, Chee estimated "maybe another five years."
"I'll probably talk with one of my longtime employees -- my kid doesn't want it," he said. "The restaurant business is tough, but I'm here to work."
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