24kW @ Wok Passion |video|

I have been cooking for as many years as I can remember. I am asked when it all started, and what was my greatest influence. I was influenced by an Italian neighbor and of course by my mother, who was very precise in her choices. Her cooking like many moms, focused on nurturing, passion, and a certain solitude.

My passion in the kitchen is about challenge, raw materials, process and details. The idea of cooking is always about learning and here I find an oasis of ideas. Cooking is a dialogue and this past week I was very lucky to have some training (on my new wok) by a veteran chef from Tokyo. The idea of a wok in a private kitchen is novel, and if you have a Chinese chef you are almost all set.

A wok needs power and not just Kilowatt power. It requires a technique, power, the flick of the wok, a sawing motion and in some cases a lifting motion, and a quick turn to empty a wok can be a challenge.

Now imagine a roaring fire and you almost cannot avoid getting burned. Otherwise its fun and expect that the learning curve could be some twenty years or more to become expert. But at the same time there is a certain intuition involved, practice and study.


Why are such extreme cooking temperatures necessary in any cooking? It’s all about achieving “wok hei” (pronounced “hay”), the sensational crispness of flavor that defines wok cooking. The sudden and intense maillard reactions on food surfaces combined with an intense range of flavor compounds.

The fascination I have with the wok is the varying degrees of temperature zones that lead us to choosing between conduction, condensation and convection. In the conduction zone, on the surface of the wok, food cooks by direct contact with the oil-coated metal.

The condensation zone is where the constant tossing action keeps food cooking in a layer of steam. You can see wisps of fog in this zone as the steam condenses both in the air and also on foods settling from vapor back to liquid as it settles back to the wok’s surface.

Above is the convection zone, a region of hot and dry air. Because air conducts heat poorly when it is devoid of water vapor, food cooks more slowly in this region. By lifting the food up off the wok and into the air, you can regulate the amount of time the food spends in each of the three heating zones.

The true skill in woking is all about keeping ingredients in a constant motion and by using your left hand on the handle of the wok, and your knee to control the fire power, you can use the free hand to help motion the wok, or add ingredients to the wok. The results are delicious and certainly dangerous!