I’m very proud to present my latest video. It’s a tribute to the wok—an instrument of life force, a vessel of history and tradition, and a trusty companion that helped me survive a tough summer.
I’d been thinking about this video for a long time before I finally got to work on it. My concept was that so many people think the wok is just a stir-fry pan, but it’s so much more. While researching my cookbook, The Breath of A Wok, the Chinese culinary legend Florence Lin said to me, “With one wok you can do everything.” I was convinced that a video was the perfect medium for showing off the extraordinary versatility of this iconic pan, to pay homage to the forgotten wok.
I’d been waiting for my friend and collaborator, Harrison Jeffs, to find time to do the shoot. We set a date in early June—and then my world was up-ended when my friend Gerald suddenly died on Memorial Day weekend. I simply could not wrap my head around Gerald’s unexpected passing. He was one of my dearest friends. Harrison and I were scheduled to start shooting five days after Gerald died, but I couldn’t think straight. I was immersed in grief, and wanted nothing more than to be alone. My first instinct was to cancel the shoot, but I knew Gerald would never do such a thing—leave Harrison hanging. Gerald had an incredible sense of humor and took tremendous joy in life, but when it came to his work as a writer, he was the consummate professional. No one worked harder than Gerald.
The video I had in mind was wildly ambitious, requiring me to cook 14 different dishes on camera in two days of shooting. I didn’t even know if it could be done. (My last video with Harrison, demonstrating a single recipe, had taken eight hours to shoot.) But I was going to try.
I was in a fog as I wrote out the grocery list, the prep list, and then a list of the seven dishes we would shoot each day. Had I been thinking clearly I would have brought in an assistant to help. Instead, for two days I lugged groceries home from the farmer’s market and Chinatown and stayed up past midnight washing vegetables, measuring and cutting ingredients.
From the moment Harrison walked in the door we worked nonstop. To my amazement, by the end of the first day we had shot all seven dishes. We were both physically and mentally spent; it was as if we’d run a marathon. I stood in the kitchen, both exhilarated and exhausted, staring at the mess I had to clean up. The next day was another grueling round of shopping and prepping, followed by one more shoot. It was probably the best thing for my aching heart—to stay focused on the project and to meet the challenges that inevitably came up.
There were plenty of hiccups on set: We were shooting in natural light, and the first day was cloudy, so the light kept fading in the middle of a shot. We literally chased the light around the apartment. Later, when we were filming the wok-smoked shrimp, the smoke wasn’t visible on camera, so I kept cranking up the heat. Suddenly I realized that I could barely see across the kitchen, and seconds later the smoke alarm began emitting its piercing wail. It’s easy to fry an egg in a wok, but when it came time to shoot it, every egg I cracked either had a broken yolk or a runny white that bled all over the bottom of the wok. When we needed to show the flame igniting under the wok, the stove mysteriously stopped working. It was a comedy of errors, although it wasn’t particularly funny at the time.
I want to thank Harrison for his masterful direction, shooting and editing, and for making the creation of this video such a special and rewarding collaborative experience. Each stage of the post-production process was equally exciting as the video slowly took shape over the summer.
When Harrison sent me the final cut, it was almost three months after Gerald’s passing, and so strange that I couldn’t show him the video or hear him teasing me mercilessly about why his favorite Chinese dish was not included. He also would’ve been full of support and praise. Gerald loved taking time to talk to friends, championing their work, and I wish I’d told him how much his encouragement meant to me. It still feels so wrong that he’s not here. So much love and heartache went into making this video. Gerald’s spirit lives in every frame.
Recipes: Here are the dishes featured in the video and where you’ll find the recipes. I’ll be posting the recipes for the French Fries, Smoked Shrimp, Wok-Seared Steak, Fried Egg, Butterflied Roast Chicken, and Wok Roasted Vegetables in upcoming posts.
One-Wok Curry Chicken, The Breath of a Wok
Chive Dumplings Spring Moon, The Breath of a Wok
Vegetarian Spring Rolls, The Breath of a Wok
Smoked Shrimp, adapted from The Breath of a Wok
Bernadette Chan’s New Year’s Poached Fish,The Breath of a Wok
Scallion Pancakes, The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen
Butterflied Roast Chicken
Wok Roasted Vegetables
Wok Popcorn, Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge
Won Ton Soup, The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen
Kung Pao Chicken, The Breath of a Wok