The Stir-Fry Guru has a story behind each one of her Recipes

Grace Young, who The New York Times refers to as “The Stir Fry Guru,” gave a cooking demo, speech, and book signing at Kendall College on Saturday, Sep. 25.

Her latest book, “Stir Fry to the Sky’s Edge,” which was awarded an IACP Le Cordon Bleu International Cookbook Award; the James Beard World International Cookbook Award; and a finalist spot in the IACP First Cookbook Awards, comprises stir fry recipes from around the world. Although stir-frying may have become pedestrianized by many college students, her cookbook restores the cuisine to its rightful place among exquisite pabulum. While Young was compiling the book, she discovered the heart of the Chinese in one dish.

“I was not prepared for these stories,” Young said. “I set out to find the best stir fry recipes. Then I would go on these interviews that would leave me with a lump in my throat. And I realized that the stories were as important to record as the recipes themselves.”

Young, who also authored “The Breath of a Wok,” explained that Chinese immigrants who came here in the 18th and 19th centuries missed their native cooking, but did not have access to Chinese produce. Most of them were poor, and would use anything they could to make stir fry. If they didn’t have a wok, they would stir-fry in a skillet. If they didn’t have Asian vegetables, they would stir-fry local vegetables with onion or garlic. Even if they didn’t have soy sauce, they would cook the meat by itself, preferring that over local American fare. The Chinese Diaspora caused the food know as “Chinese Food” to evolve into what it is today.

“Even without ginger or scallions, they were able to make delicious stir fries.” Young said. “There was so much prejudiced against the Chinese, that by preserving the cuisine, it staved off home sickness.”

But although they were able to improvise, some of them could not compare their American stir-fry with their beloved Chinese stir-fry.

“One woman who I interviewed,” she said, “told me that her mother came to America in 1918, and for all those years she missed the taste of Chinese vegetables so badly, that one day she took shelled English pea pods and pulled the pods back, and peeled the inner membrane off the peapod and stir fried them with beef and onions to remind her of the taste of snow peas.”

Young’s cookbook is not only a compilation of stir-fry recipes that have evolved throughout the world, it is a historical documentation.

Irene Sax, food writer for Newsday and restaurant reviewer for the New York Daily News, said that Grace’s recipes’ strength comes from the fact that she adapted traditional techniques to American stoves and equipment.

“I loved the book. I get a lot of cookbooks to review, and this is one that I’m keeping, not selling to a second-hand bookstore,” she said.

Although Young wants to restore the art of authentic Chinese stir fry, she writes her books based on the type of stoves used in American kitchens, so that readers can cook the recipes at home. The book was written with the intention of empowering home cooks to stir-fry with confidence. It explores the origins and health benefits of stir-frying, as well as the benefits of saving time and resources. Young’s recipes are meant for American stoves and use very little oil and vegetables.

At the end of her demonstration, she received such heartfelt praise from some of the audience members that it actually brought her to tears.

“My mother is sick,” she said, “I actually didn’t think I would be able to do this today.”

The Program Chair of the Culinary Historians of Chicago, Scott Warner, arranged to have Young speak at Kendall College. He said although he hasn’t cooked from her book, it is something that he must have for his culinary library, both to read from and to cook from.

“Grace tells a magnificent tale, and her recipes look too-die-for,” he said.

Rachael J. Turski, Contributing Reporter