The Breath of a Wok

di Grace Young and Alan Richardson   


This book would not have been possible without the encouragement and love of my husband, Michael Wiertz, who understood the need for all my wok journeys and good-naturedly accepted that every adventure brought home at least one new wok for my collection. In the midst of all the upheaval that results from creating a book, he was a paragon of calm. For this and much more, I am grateful.

I would like to express my appreciation to my parents, Helen and Delwyn Young, for instilling in me their love and passion for Cantonese cuisine and the unsurpassed brilliance of a stir-fry with wok hay. Many thanks to them for their faith in me.

Special thanks to Rosanna and C.Y. Shum; my visit with them in Hong Kong in 2000 indulged me in the fascinating world of Hong Kong—style cooking and in many ways inspired the writing of this book.

From the beginning, Martha Kaplan, my agent and friend, has championed this project and offered wise counsel—usually over a Chinese meal. As the book began to take shape, my dear friend Laura Cerwinske generously did the preliminary editing of my rough drafts, helping me to set the foundation of my story, ft was my good fortune to have my uncle SunYui Fung give the Chinese titles for each essay and section of the book. He has been a constant advisor from the beginning, patiently researching and consulting on any type of Chinese cultural question that confused me.

I owe a special debt of gratitude to Evie Righter, who came to my rescue on numerous occasions, providing invaluable editorial guidance on the recipes and essays. Her critiques always illuminated the material, offering insights and clarity that eluded me.

In writing this book, Alan and 1 have had the extraordinary pleasure of meeting many great teachers who generously shared their expertise and friendship. Our profound thanks to the home cooks and chefs who graciously welcomed us into their kitchens.

In the United States: Chef Susanna Foo, Winnie Hon, Chef Henry Hugh, Susan Lin, Julie

Tay, Ken Lo, Dr. and Mrs. Kam Toa Miu, Margaret Loo, Bernadette Chan, Chef Ming Tsai, Helen Chen, Chef Danny Chan, Peipei Chang, Jean Yueh, Millie Chan, Florence Lin, Chef Martin Yan, Chef Siu Chah Lung, Ray Lee, Cecilia Chiang, Che Chung Ng, Dickson Hee, Amy Tan, Lou DeMattei, Jin Do Eng, Lijun Wan,Yuhang Wang, Hong Chang Guo, and Yan Zheng Yan.

Heartfelt gratitude and appreciation to the cooks in my family, with special thanks to my auntie and uncle Betty and Roy Yim for hosting our family wok-a-thon party—without their gracious hospitality the event would never have happened. And to all the participants: Bertha Jew; Lillian and William Jew; Frances and Sherman Young; Katherine Jew Lint; Doreen and Mel Song; Sylvia, Fred, and Thomas Chow; Cindy and Zane Matsuzaki;Judy, David, and Timothy Jew.

In Hong Kong and China: Virginia Yee, Tina Yao Lu, Mary Chau, Nevin Lini, Chef Kevin Chuk, Walter Kei, Chef Ip Chi Cheung, Chef Lee Wan Ching, ChefYip Wing Wah, Chef Poon Chi Cheung, Mr. and Mrs.Yang Lang Ping (Uncle Lang and Auntie Yi), and Liang Nian Xiu.

There are several individuals mentioned in the long list of cooks we interviewed whose contributions extended far beyond our cooking sessions. We are profoundly grateful to Florence Lin, who consulted on numerous culinary questions with exceptional grace and generosity.

Without Millie Chan we would have never had the opportunity to meet Florence Lin. Millie was one of the first cooks we interviewed and from the start of the project she and her husband, Lo-Yi, have been great supporters.

I will always treasure the time spent with my Uncle Lang and Auntie Yi in Foshan, China. When I last saw them over twenty years ago, our relationship was much more formal. I was very touched to be welcomed into their home to spend an afternoon cooking and sharing a meal. I thank them for embracing our project and tirelessly accompanying us to the local markets, dai pai dong, and even organizing cooking sessions with their friends.

Thanks also to my cousin and his wife, Mr. and Mrs.Yang Zhi Xiang.

Liang Nian Xiu’s hospitality gave us an extraordinary experience during our time in Yangshuo. Beyond our fascinating cooking session with Liang, she also understood our mission and took us on an unforgettable tour of the region that revealed much of the wok culture we sought.

Special thanks to Ken Horn, who found time between his commitments in Europe and Asia for an extensive interview.

Upon arriving in Hong Kong, Walter Chu was instrumental in getting us started with a memorable day-long walk through Kowloon and providing important local information. My interviews with Vivien Cheung, Teddy Leung, Chef Paray Li, Chef Ip Chi Kwong, Chef Ronald Shao, and Chef Cheung Chin Choi also contributed greatly to our understanding of the subtleties of wok cooking. We are also grateful to Nevin Lim—his knowledge of Hong Kong history and Cantonese cuisine was indispensable.

Many individuals helped in our quest to find the talented home cooks and chefs we interviewed. We would like to thank: Ivy Fung, Margaret Sheridan, R. T.Yao, Linda Yao, Tony Yao, Theresa Wang Yao, Mary Yao, Lucy Fong, Susan Yoshimura, Howard Goodman, Teresa Delaney, Nick Malgieri, Marie Lam, Grace Choi, Tammy Shueh, Mimi Chan, Michael Chang and Diana Budiman of the Hong Kong Tourist Association, Sian Griffiths of the Peninsula hotel in Hong Kong, Christina Choy of the Chinese Cuisine Training Institute in Hong Kong, and Gary Goldberg of the New School Culinary Arts program in New York City. From the Shangri-La hotel thanks to Judy Reeves in New York City, Patsy Chan in Kowloon, and Cindi Li in Shanghai.

Special thanks to my cousin Fred Chow, who orchestrated several cooking sessions. Fred put us in touch with Yee Ming Ting in Shanghai, who arranged for Joyce Yang’s much needed services as a translator for our interviews in Shanghainese. He is also responsible for the idea of the wok-a-thon.

I am grateful to the following individuals and institutions for their help in researching the history of the wok in America: Professor Priscilla Wegars, Professor Jeffrey Barlow, Maxine Chan, Emma Louie, Lisa See, Roberta Greenwood, David Kerkkonen, Bill G. Quackenbush, Jeannie Woo, Judy Lu, Ralph Eubanks, Joe Evans, Carolyn Micnhimer, David Kessler, California Historical Society, Kant Wah Chung & Co. Museum, Chinese Historical Society of San Francisco, and the Bancroft Library, UC Berkeley.

Many thanks to Professor Mark Swislocki, Alice Lowe, John Stuckey, Professor E. N. Anderson, and Jackie Newman for their assistance in finding historical information on the wok.

As my wok education evolved I discovered I needed to understand technical information. Cen Lian Gen, Robert Wolke, Jim Cassidy of Precision Metal Spinning, Inc.,Joseph Yick, Daniel Dechamps, and Chan Kai Yuen are responsible for teaching me about the nature of carbon steel, cast iron, and wok fabrication. Wen Geng Lin, Shelley Smyers, Professor Yih-Shen Hwang, Sui Wan Lok, Kenny Leung, and Tanya Leung provided valuable information on seasoning a wok. I am also grateful to Chef Paul Muller, Chef Che Heng Lee, Judy Wong, Chef Huang Zhen Hua, David Ostwald, and Martha Dahlen for contributing their expertise.

Heartfelt thanks to Tane Chan of The Wok Shop for sharing her vast knowledge and passion for woks. I was charmed by her energy, humor, and devotion as a “wokker.”

I offer special thanks to our editor, Sydny Miner, for her superb editing and unwavering support throughout this project. It has also been a pleasure to work with the remarkable team at Simon & Schuster. Many thanks to Victoria Meyer, Aileen Boyle, Tracey Guest, and Chris Wahlers for their support in publicity; Jonathan Brodman, production editor, for his astute handling of the text; Ginger McCrae for her fine copyediting; and Laura Holmes for her assistance. We are especially grateful to Judy Eda for her impeccable proofreading.

We would also like to acknowledge David Sablan Camacho, who generously offered his flat in Hong Kong as a home base during our research and for lending his antique plates for the food photography. Special thanks for sharing his vast knowledge of China and for answering my many questions with patience and good humor.

Heartfelt gratitude to Ray Furse, who consulted on various aspects of the book, generously offering amazing contacts and resources, and sharing his expertise on Chinese culture.

Our deepest thanks to Cheng Huan Chen for the beautiful calligraphy that graces the jacket and title page, and to Dr. Siong Chuan Lee for making this possible. My thanks also to Jeanyee Wong, who provided the calligraphy for the proposal.

As a result of The Breath of a Wok, a wok exhibition is planned for New York University in New York City, and for the Portland Classical Chinese Garden in Oregon. My profound thanks to Professor Barbara Kirschenblatt-Gimblett for providing the seed for this idea. I would also like to thank Professor John Kuo WeiTchen, Carolyn Goldstein, Barbara Haber, Dr. Nancy Jervis, Marsha Matthews, Laura Chen-Schultz, Fannie Chan, Dr. Rubie Watson, Karen Karp, Lesley Wright, Tomas Rojas, Reggie Bardach, Richard Wells, Aaron Paley, Blake Van Roekel, and Franklin Odo.

My friends have been an enormous blessing, offering unflagging support and encouragement through some of the more challenging phases. Heartfelt thanks to Ragnhild Wagenhofer, Michael Zande.J. Robert Purdom, Dr. Joan Golden, Michelle Steffens, Linda Campbell Franklin, Bonnie Slotnick, Andrea DiNoto, Heinrich and Hildegarde Wiertz, Erika and Herri Wiertz, Ulrike Carpus, Janice Easton-Epner, Dr. Kevin Caroli, Marjorie Poore, Alex Fatalevich, Doralece Dullaghan, Kim Park, Andy Clurfeld, Gale Steves, Sunny and Bud Taylor, Amy Besa and Chef Romy Dorotan of Cendrillon restaurant in New York City; and to my godmothers, Anna Kwock and Ronnie Wei Gin.

Special thanks to my cousins Sylvia Chow and Katherine Jew Lint for always looking after me. And to Scott Hunt, whose humor and friendship are precious gifts.

I am forever grateful to Tom Hicks for bequeathing me his well-seasoned flat-bottomed wok.

In closing, my profound thanks to Alan Richardson. With his unerring vision, he has married the text and his elegant photographs to create a book that captures the essence of wok hay. It has been an honor and privilege to work with Alan. Many thanks for teaching me the unique beauty of a collaborative effort—I am forever spoiled.

And finally to Henry-san, who sat by my side throughout the writing.You are always in my heart.

The list of individuals who helped me directly or indirectly with the book is largely synonymous with Grace’s, and I want to thank all of those people, too. We realized after each leg of the journey how many people were being so amazingly generous, and we share a deep gratitude to everyone who helped us along the way. But there were a few individuals who gave enormously of their time and knowledge and who did not overlap with Graces endeavors.

First and foremost, I make few decisions without the input of my partner, Larry Frascella, who is my best friend and bravest advisor. Larry listens to every idea and brings to it the discerning ear of the critic. I value his insight along with his support. As for the rest of my family, a book is a time-consuming commitment, and at times they have taken a backseat to the work process.Thanks to Sarah for making me think, Anna for making me smile, Lawrence for making me laugh, and Laura Mecca for keeping us all together. I want to thank Eleanor, Mai, and the Brown family for all of their patience; and I am grateful to Debby Pauli, Kelly Hughes, Robyn Manuel, and Cara Walker for their understanding. Thank you to Antonis Achilleos and Alessandra Mortola, who listen to the difficulties as well as offer constant support and friendship.

The work of crafting a book has many phases, but there were two individuals whose assistance stretched from the beginning to the end of this project. I want to thank Roy Galaday, who was there for me every day from the beginning—when he was hoping that I could somehow ship him off to China with us—to the end, when he was printing the most beautiful rendition possible of every black-and-white image that I managed to bring back. And heartfelt thanks to Cathy Weiner for letting me tap her insightful design and art opinions again and again, and still having the skill to keep it all moving forward.

I am indebted to our editor, Sydny Miner, who through a rare combination of trust and vigilance gave us the freedom to be creative. Martha Kaplan, our agent, came to me by way of Grace and I am very thankful for that. Martha had a thoughtful answer for every dilemma and never steered us wrong.

My dear friend Laura Dwight introduced me to photography many years ago and has given me valuable advice and support on all of my projects, including the making of this book. Early on I went to my design and taste consultants, my friends Anne Disrude and Betty Alfenito, who gave me excellent advice, especially with the recipe design and book layout. My friend Maria McBride has been through the publishing trenches with me and still finds ways to surprise me with her ideas, friendship, and constant championing of our book; thanks. 1 want to thank Amadeo Lasansky for offering advice whenever it was needed on everything ranging from camera equipment to computers to printing to traveling in China. I want to thank my friend Ming Tsai for giving generously of his time and expertise.

On the production end, I want to single out first Kishore Kinge of Color Resource Center in New York City. Many of the beautiful color images in the book were printed by Kishore; he is a gifted artist. Special thanks to Neil Nanda and Brian Joseph at CRC for their tremendous help with the color images for the book and exhibition.

Laura Smyth of Smythtype in Montclair, NJ, not only did a terrific job consulting on the type design, she was an incredible source of information throughout the production of the book. Thanks to Laura and Elmore Reese for all of their hard work and advice.

1 want to thank Chris Frape for putting us in touch with Dennis George Crow, and Dennis for offering his vintage photography resources to the book. Some aspects of the book have required more attention than might be obvious.The Chinese characters for the headlines were put together by Birdtrack Press in New Haven, CT, and I want to thank David Goodrich, who gave much thought, care, and scholarship to the production of that text. At Simon & Schuster, Jonathon Brodman did terrific work on the book; Linda Evans, Linda Dingier, Alyssa Tarragano, and Jackie Seow deserve much credit for their production and art expertise.

Lastly, I want to thank my friend Grace Young. From our earliest musings about the wok, and throughout our collaboration in search of it, she has proven to be a rigorous journalist with the heart of a poet. Grace doesn’t surprise me anymore because I have come to expect the exceptional from her.

Photography Note

The photographs for this book, like the text, were shaped by our journey, and their content evolved as the story unfolded and our knowledge of the wok broadened. All of the photographs, with the few exceptions of the identification shots in the wokbuying guide and the glossary, were taken on location while on the wok trail. The food photographs were taken just as our cooks prepared them. There was no food stylist, although Grace and I both had input on how they were presented, and the dishes we used in the photographs were mostly what we found at the location or were able to pick up along the way. In China our photographic resources were limited and we came to rely on our instincts as street photographers and the use of natural light. Fortunately, the subject took control of the process and the resulting images, though edited to tell our story, are a fair representation of our journey in search of the wok.


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