Review: ‘Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen’ A Cookbook & Family Memoir
The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen is as much family memoir as cookbook. This charming book is filled with family stories and treasured recipes. Its thorough introduction to the Cantonese kitchen is bound to be loved and appreciated by anyone with a passion for authentic Chinese food.
I confess I missed out on the fanfare surrounding the release of this seminal work back in 1999. It was a busy time in my life. My first child had already come along, and there was a second on the way. Thus, I was blissfully oblivious to new cookbook releases.
I only discovered this exceptional book and bought it recently, on a whim. One Saturday, I was reminiscing to my children about some of the Cantonese food my Aunt used to prepare when I was a child. Then, suddenly, I realized that I could recreate only a few of her dishes.
Living in Johannesburg, I couldn’t hop over to my Aunt’s place for a marathon cooking session. So, I had to find my own roadmap if I wanted to share these foods with my children.
Fortunately, Grace Young’s The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen filled the void. In reading the book, I was surprised to discover that I was far from alone. In fact, many children of Chinese immigrants find themselves in the same boat!
This is a beautifully written book, which is personalized with Grace Young’s family stories and family photos. These anecdotes make The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen a fascinating history of Chinese-American immigration, traditions, and wisdom. They also make it a landmark cookbook.
Grace Young’s parents were devoted gourmets, who were clueless about cooking when they first arrived in the United States. However, they were determined to eat well and to serve their children the delicious food they grew up eating. Thus, they devoted hours to mastering the art of traditional Cantonese cooking.
In The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen, their daughter, Grace Young, painstakingly gathers the secrets to her family’s exquisite food. She generously shares tips — such as how to buy the very best produce and prepare it for the wok — and tricks. She is also honest enough to admit that even she struggles with certain techniques. Thus, she proposes viable workarounds for the home cook.
The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen is a must read for anyone wishing to learn more about Cantonese gastronomy. However, it is also a treasure trove of wisdom for home cooks wishing to recreate authentic Cantonese flavors.
Because this book is as much a family memoir, as it is a cookbook, the recipes run the gamut. They range from simple, every day dishes for busy weeknights, to complex banquet dishes that may take days to create. In addition, The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen is the only Chinese cookbook I own that includes medicinal recipes.
Grace Young’s style, honed through a lifetime of experience at Time Life books, is direct and easy to understand. Thus, the recipes are very easy to follow and, in my experience, allow even a novice to create authentic tasting Cantonese food at home.