Author Grace Young’s travels through China, which began in 1979, coincided with the decline of the country’s once-pervasive wok culture. The wok, used for more than 2000 years because of its versatility and longevity, began giving way to the fickle tastes of modernization. Sensing this change in Chinese cuisine and culture, she and photographer Alan Richardson collected woks across the United States and China. Their work resulted in The Breath of a Wok: Unlocking the Spirit of Chinese Wok Cooking Through Recipes and Lore (Simon & Schuster).

Now, many of these woks are on display at New York University’s Asian/Pacific/American Institute (through December 23). The exhibition presents a sampling of the basic types of woks: Cantonese (round bottomed with two metal ears), Northern-Style (round bottomed with a long metal hollow handle), and Shanghainese (like the Cantonese with two metal ears, but with a slightly deeper and rounder shape) as well as the flat-bottomed wok (with two wooden handles) adapted specifically for use on a Western residential range. “For me, cooking in a traditional cast-iron or carbon-steel wok is an empowering experience, one in which the simple act of Chinese cooking becomes a ritual central to my Chinese

American heritage,” says Young. “Wok hay is its essence.”

WHAT: EXHIBIT-“The Breath of a Wok”

WHEN: Now through December 23

WHERE: NYU’s Asian/Pacific/American Institute, 269 Mercer Street, Suite 609, New York, NY (open 9-5, Monday through Friday)

Reporters interested in attending the exhibit should contact James Devitt, NYU’s Office of Public Affairs, at (212) 998-6808 or

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