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Behind the Kitchen Door: Grace Young’s East-Meets-West Kitchen

Fine Cooking Issue 121

Robyn Doyon-Aitken; Text, images, and floor plan by Charles Miller; kitchen before shot provided by Grace Young
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Measuring in at just over 60 square feet, cookbook author Grace Young‘s kitchen is small by contemporary standards. But relative to most kitchens in her SoHo neighborhood in New York City, it’s positively enormous. And every inch of space is put to good use.

Known for her expertise in Chinese cuisine in general and wok cooking in particular (and for traveling with a 14-inch wok in her carry-on luggage), Grace has won a host of awards for her cookbooks, which celebrate authentic Chinese recipes. Her most recent, Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge, took home the 2011 James Beard award for the best international cookbook. There’s even a dedicated group of readers, the Wok Wednesdays crew, cooking their way through the entire book.

I dropped in on Grace to learn first-hand about how she uses her Big Apple kitchen to create traditional Chinese dishes. The aroma of fresh garlic and ginger hitting her sizzling-hot wok drew me into the room, and the efficiency and charm of the space made me never want to leave.

The Layout

Ten years ago, Grace and her husband expanded their one-bedroom Manhattan apartment by buying the apartment next door. This allowed them to add a dining area and a sitting area, and bump up the original 40-square-foot kitchen to a 60-square-foot finely tuned culinary workspace.

The new kitchen is a densely packed cul-de-sac adjacent to the dining area, flanked by hallways. On the dining side, an elevated 45-inch-high honed-granite counter curves outward to form an elegant breakfast bar overlooking the kitchen. “It’s a tight space, but the extra-deep 30-inch countertop is a blessing,” says Grace. “It gives me plenty of room for prepping ingredients. I like to have everything ready before I start to cook—especially when stir-frying—so I prep the food on the deep counter, bring it over to the left side of the stove, cook it, and then bring the finished dishes back to the deep counter.” When the meal is over, the single-bowl sink with an arched faucet is deep enough to accommodate even Grace’s largest wok, and is strategically placed to look out over the busy street scene below.

“The entire kitchen was designed at Home Depot, and it was our designer’s idea to install the narrow drawers on the left side of the stove instead of the typical filler strips used with stock-dimension cabinets. She also suggested
the open shelves to the right of the sink (shown in the top photo), where I display some of my favorite culinary objets d’art.”

Grace’s Storage Solutions

Finding storage for cooking utensils, equipment, and ingredients is a challenge in such a small kitchen, but Grace has come up with some efficient ways of dealing with the space’s limitations. “I keep my dry and canned goods, condiments, herbs, spices, and wine glasses in the tall antique armoire that sits next to the kitchen. I use the 30 or so glass honey jars that I’ve bought over the years from a honey vendor at the Union Square farmers’ market to store Chinese herbs, cornstarch, nuts, and dried fruit.”

Grace worked with her kitchen designer to create custom storage for her cooking equipment, including her many woks. “I have an extensive wok collection, more than a dozen in total. We designed two deep kitchen cabinets with sliding shelves for the woks I use most often, and then the rest I keep in plastic storage tubs under my desk and bed. And there’s always one sitting on the stove, ready for action.”

The narrow drawers to the left of the stove are perfect for utensils and knives. “My husband cut an inexpensive knife holder from Bed Bath & Beyond so that it fits snugly into one of the drawers; that’s where my knives live. I keep part of my chopstick collection in another drawer, and in the rest, other long or bulky tools like my shrimp deveiner, rolling pin, and deep-fry thermometer.”

Inspired to fire up your wok? Grace has that effect on people. Pick a favorite recipe from Grace and stir-fry, steam, deep fry, or smoke. . .you guessed it. . .to the sky’s edge.

Featured Recipes from Grace Young

Stir-Fried Chili Beef with Bell Peppers and Snow Peas recipe Steamed Salmon with Leeks, Shiitake, and Soy recipe
Stir-Fried Chili Beef with Bell Peppers and Snow Peas Steamed Salmon with Leeks, Shiitake, and Soy
Tea-Smoked Shrimp Salad with Mango recipe Vegetable Tempura recipe
Tea-Smoked Shrimp Salad with Mango Vegetable Tempura

Read the article Four Ways to Cook in Your Wok for Grace’s tips on wok cooking.

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  • Elise913 | 02/14/2013

    Oh, how wonderful you kitchen is...I didn't expect that you would share where you purchased your beautiful cabinets and appliances! Great tips! I love your kitchen gods and display shelf...my grandmother had a display shelf on either side of her kitchen sink, and now I have some of her lovely items. Thank you for having me into your home!

  • tmann | 02/11/2013

    How wonderful to hear the details of how Grace and her husband went about planning their kitchen. I especially like the deep countertops, something I would love to have. Thanks for providing it.

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