Meet Grace Young, the vocal guru fighting to save America’s Chinatown

(CNN) – If you don’t already have or plan to buy a skillet, chances are you will do so after talking to Grace Young.

But like the thousands of people who have attended his performances or read his award-winning books over the past two decades, you won’t regret it.

This year, the revered food writer, historian and ‘wok therapist’ has been named as the recipient of two of the culinary world’s most prestigious food culture awards – the 8th Annual Julia Child Award and the 2022 James Beard Humanitarian of the Year Award.

The awards recognize not only Young’s work promoting Chinese culinary culture, but also his recent efforts advocating for mom-and-pop businesses in Chinatowns across the United States during the pandemic – neighborhood COVID-19 lockdown and anti-Asian hate crimes.

A lawyer for Chinatown

On March 15, 2020, as New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio considers a city-wide lockdown in response to the rapidly spreading virus, Young talks with videographer Dan Ah in Chinatown about the woes of the community and the future of their livelihoods Documenting the uncertainties in

“It was a very powerful experience for me to see Chinatown in its darkest days. It inspired me to do everything I could to help,” Young told CNN Travel.

While the pandemic has affected businesses across the city, it was worst for smaller establishments in New York City’s Chinatown as people felt unsafe to go there – “even though there were no cases of COVID that were reported from Chinatown.” Were done,” Young adds.

“People were afraid to come to Chinatown because of misinformation and xenophobia,” she says.

Grace Young, award-winning food writer and vocal therapist, is the recipient of the 2022 Julia Child Award.


the situation worsened Anti-Asian hate crimes increased significantly in the coming months. In 2020, nationally, attacks targeting Asians increased from 161 to 279, according to the NYPD Hate Crime Dashboard. Between March 31, 2021 and March 31, 2022, 110 out of 577 hate crime incidents targeted Asians.

As reports of such crimes grew, businesses began closing their doors early, allowing their employees to go home before dark, a practice that continues today.

“Chinatown, pre-pandemic, was very lively until 10 or 11 p.m. Now, it’s painful for me to see that so many stores and markets close their doors at 5 a.m. On weekdays, it’s very quiet Maybe,” says Young.

Most businesses in Chinatown are mom-and-pop shops – often without a website. Young began to use his influence to advocate for them.

In 2021, she partnered with a New York nonprofit welcome to chinatown Grace Young Support to Launch Chinatown Fund. It raised $40,000.

He donated the proceeds to four heritage businesses – Hop Lee, Hop Key, That Hop Upstairs and That Hop Downstairs – in Manhattan’s Chinatown. In return, businesses provided food for those suffering from food insecurity.

“Each restaurant only received $10,000 – and they had to use the money to cook food to feed residents who are in need. But cooking these meals helped staff morale because day after day no one There was something to do after not having business days. Days,” Young says.

She plans to donate the $50,000 grant she received as part of the Julia Child Award to a number of non-profit organizations that support Chinatowns across the country.

the wisdom of the chinese kitchen

Youth and her childhood inspiration, Julia Child.

Youth and her childhood inspiration, Julia Child.

Michael Wirtz

The Julia Child Award represents much more than Young’s Chinatown advocacy efforts. It is personal too.

“I don’t think I would have gone into a food career without Julia Child’s influence. She was the one who fascinated me so much and became interested in cooking,” says Young, who fell in love with baby cooking as a child. . teenager.

Growing up in San Francisco, Young says she really enjoyed cooking in a Cantonese home.

In college, she tried to replicate recipes she had grown up with using Chinese cookbooks, but with little success. So in his 30s, he asked his parents to teach him how to cook Cantonese classics – from beef stir-fry with tomatoes to cashew chicken.

This experience led to his first cookbook, “The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen,” which was published in 1999.

“When I wrote my first cookbook, I wanted to do the same for Chinese cooking that Julia Child did for French cooking,” Young says. ie to takeBugaboo out of French cooking“—or Chinese cooking, in Young’s case—”to demonstrate that it is not only good cooking but that it follows certain rules,” as Child once explained.

Young’s book has garnered a lot of accolades. It was a James Beard Foundation International Cookbook Award finalist, nominated for the IACP Julia Child First Cookbook Award and won the IACP Best International Cookbook Award.

Almost Forgotten Tender Chicken Over Rice

Young says she wanted to do the same for Chinese cooking that Julia Child did for French cooking.

Young says she wanted to do the same for Chinese cooking that Julia Child did for French cooking.

delvin young

Working on the book was more rewarding than Young expected.

After thoroughly documenting the activities in her family’s kitchen for nearly two years, she thought they had covered all the recipes she wanted.

That is, until his father said “But we haven’t taught you ‘vat gaya fan’.”

One of his favorite recipes, it was the last recipe Young learned from his parents to incorporate into the “wisdom of the Chinese kitchen.”

Vat Gaya Phan is a simple dish made by steaming chicken, shiitake mushrooms and rice in a pot. The process makes the chicken very tender, so “wat” or “slippery” in Cantonese, and the rice fuses with the delicious chicken flavor. The recipe is titled “Tender Chicken on Rice” in her book.

“‘Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen’ was published in 1999, and about 10 years later I got a call that my mother had suffered a stroke,” says Young.

She went back to San Francisco to visit her mother in the hospital.

“She was unable to speak. I sat there with her. They brought hospital food. It was something like meat and mashed potatoes. She took her fork and pecked at the food, but she didn’t bite,” remembers young

So the concerned daughter went back to her family home and cooked tender chicken on rice in a small pot.

“I brought the pot with me to the hospital. When I walked into the hospital room it was still hot. The moment I walked in, she could smell the aroma and she saw it. I opened the pot and she ate the whole thing ,” says Young.

As her mother got older, Young continued to cook for her. Despite having dementia, Young’s mother always recognized her food. Cooking became a way to reach them.

“When I wrote ‘The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen,’ I thought I was writing it for my generation and generations to come, so we wouldn’t forget old recipes,” she says. “But I never dreamed that it would enable me to comfort my parents in their time of need.

“Now both my parents have passed away. It was one of my biggest gifts in life that I took the time to cook with my parents. Now that I cook Vata Gaya Fan, it Sounds even more worthwhile. I almost remembered that recipe.”

a vocal therapist

Over the years, Young realized that many Chinese Americans—like those when she was younger—didn’t know how to use a skillet.

In an effort to preserve the art, she devoted two of her next books to wok and stir-fries: “The Breath of a Wok” and “Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge.”

“In America, many people call a skillet a stir-fry pan,” she says. “They have no idea that you can use a wok for steaming, boiling, poaching, pan-frying, stir-frying, deep-frying, smoking, and braising. I use my wok to scramble eggs. For this, I use to pan fry the steak. Make the corn kernels.

“Making popcorn in the skillet is great for really sharpening the patina of the skillet.”

For those not familiar with the concept, patina is a brown film on the surface of metals that develops after long periods of continuous use. It is like a natural non-stick coating for the pan.

Among the unknown number of woks in her collection — Young won’t tell us how many she has because she doesn’t want her husband to know — she says there’s a 14-inch flat-bottomed carbon-steel wok, which She was affectionately nicknamed the “Wok Man”, which she carried with her while traveling for work.

“Wok Man has logged many frequent flier miles. If only it could earn its free ticket,” says Young.

Contributing to Young’s popularity, his books managed to overcome the challenge of explaining many ethereal Chinese culinary concepts – for example, he “coined” the phrase.Wok hey”, or ‘the breath of a wok’’ – a feat generations of Chinese food writers and lovers are grateful for.
Today she considers herself a vocal therapist, answering questions via email to nervous new vocal owners, while also participating in wok wednesdays, an online stir-frying cooking group he co-founded.

Protecting an Integral Part of American Culinary Culture

After three cookbooks, Young says she still doesn’t consider herself a chef.

But he is particularly passionate about the preservation and revelation of Chinese culture through food.

Whether writing wok recipes or advocating for Chinatown, she says she’s not only doing it for Chinese communities in America.

For him, Chinese cuisine and Chinatown culture are an integral part of American culture and history.

“I think people forget that Chinese food actually has such a long history in America, dating back to the 1840s, and it’s a very important part of the American culinary landscape,” Young says.

“Chinatown to me is a sacred part of American identity and it represents the story of America. It transports you to another world. It’s a small part of a bygone era.”

Top image: Revered food writer, historian and ‘wok therapist’ Grace Young. Credits: Dan Ah.