The actor who played Bonanza's Hop Sing actually was an acclaimed chef
David Dotort: "Victor was just absolutely delightful."
“Hop Sing!” Ben Cartwright yells in the very first episode of Bonanza. “Where the devil are you hiding? You’ve got four hungry men who want to know what’s for dinner!” Hop Sing runs from the kitchen and defends himself, “Why do you all the time have to yell?” Ben laughs in his face, and Hoss has to chase the cook down, telling him earnestly despite his characteristic heft, “Wait a minute, Hop Sing. You can’t do that. Why if you left here, I’d waste away to a shadow.”
On Bonanza, Hop Sing remained a prominent character throughout the series run, appearing in 107 episodes. The TV Western cook was played by the actor Victor Sen Yung, a prolific character actor seen in movies and on TV from the 1930s to 1980, the year he died in a tragic accident. But what many viewers likely did not realize: The actor who played one of TV’s most memorable cooks was actually an acclaimed chef in the real world, too.
In between Sen Yung's acting appearances, he could be found on TV cooking shows, sharing tips from his deep knowledge of Cantonese cooking, which ultimately and fortunately ended up being catalogued in the 1974 cookbook he released, Victor Sen Yung's Great Wok Cookbook. On the back of the book, the talented chef promises 200 recipes, from "typical" Chinese banquet fare to small snacks and treats. It reads:
"Victor Sen Yung tells you secret tricks for cooking rice, offers tips on using seasonings and preparing condiments, and devotes an entire section to beverages – tea, liquors and wines (including rice wine). You'll learn how to combine foods in exciting ways that will delight a few, or please an entire crowd!"
Clearly Hop Sing's cooking pleased the few on the cast of Bonanza (Ben's bossy attitude aside), but the series creator David Dotort once told the Archive of American Television that he never expected the character to catch on with audiences and generate the massive fandom that Sen Yung did. Dotort said, "Victor was just absolutely delightful. He loved the part; he loved doing it. In fact, he began to develop fans, to the extent that I wrote him in as the feature part in a number of shows.”
That's right. If you sent in a letter asking Bonanza for more Hop Sing, know that your request fell on very receptive ears. Dotort responded to fan demand and wrote several Hop Sing-central episodes of the show, but perhaps the most endearing came from the show's 10th season.
In "Mark of Guilt," we watched as Little Joe gets accused of murder, and it's Hop Sing who steps up to prove his innocence. Relying on his knowledge of the Chinese art of finger-printing, Hop Sing actually ends up proving Joe's innocence and the Bonanza cast is so grateful that they actually cook him dinner for a change.
The episode closes with Hop Sing, happily digging into his meal, as the Cartwrights smile down on their beloved cook, who became so much dearer to everyone on the show and in the audience than even his creator David Dotort could've predicted. All thanks to the care and enthusiasm of the actor and sensational chef Victor Sen Yung.