Cookbook author Grace Young named ‘Women of the Year’ honoree for Chinatown advocacy

Cookbook author Grace Young named ‘Women of the Year’ honoree for Chinatown advocacyCookbook author Grace Young named ‘Women of the Year’ honoree for Chinatown advocacy
Bryan Ke
March 30, 2023
Self-proclaimed “stir-fry guru” Grace Young was named one of USA Today’s Women of the Year, an award given to women by the outlet for their significant impact on their communities and the country.
Young, the 67-year-old author of cookbooks “Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge,” “The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen” and “The Breath of a Wok,” was recognized for her advocacy for restaurateurs and business owners in Chinatowns across the U.S. amid the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown.
As a national honoree, Young joins Nicole Mann, the first Native American woman in space; Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman to serve in the U.S. Supreme Court; and former first lady Michelle Obama.
Speaking to USA Today, Young said she would have “completely collapsed” if she had not focused her attention on helping New York City’s Chinatown, as the city saw 700 to 800 deaths per day at the height of the pandemic.
Rather than focus on hearing the sound of the sirens in the distance and reading the headlines and the news, that by just trying to do as much good as I could for Chinatown actually saved me,” she said.
Young worked with several projects that helped Chinatowns across the country recover from their losses, including the James Beard Foundation’s social media campaigns #SaveChineseRestaurants in 2020 and #SupportChinatowns in 2022.
“In 2020, I reached out to the James Beard Foundation and asked them if we could partner in a social media campaign called Save Chinese Restaurants. That’s because at that point, Chinatowns across the United States were seeing their business drop 80% or more,” she said.
Young also supported activist Don Lee’s Stir-Fry Meals on Wheels, which delivered food to Chinese seniors’ homes in New York City after all senior centers were forced to close their doors during the pandemic.
In all of her efforts, Young admitted to USA Today that she started her advocacy to help Chinatowns in the U.S. without any plans. Despite all the campaigns created to help struggling small businesses, Young said she cannot help but feel worried as the foot traffic in some U.S. Chinatowns is still low.
I’m still worried about San Francisco’s Chinatown, New York City’s Chinatown, Boston, Philly – they’re all struggling,” she said. “All the Chinatowns are reporting that they just don’t have the foot traffic they used to have.”
Young received several awards for her activism during the pandemic, including the IACP 2021 Lifetime Achievement Award and a spot on “Good Morning America’s” Inspiration List for Who’s Making AAPI History in 2021.
In 2022, she received the Julia Child Award and the James Beard Humanitarian of the Year Award. She was also nominated for a Webby Award for her video comedy “Wok Therapist,” among other nominations related to her cooking career.
When I received the James Beard Humanitarian Award and the Julia Child Foundation’s Julia Child Award, those were two absolutely unreal, unfathomable experiences in my life,” she told USA Today.
For Young, saving Chinatowns in the U.S. is important as they “represent the American dream.”
There’s no other place in America that actually shows us the immigrant story,” she said. “And in New York’s Chinatown, 98% of the businesses are mom-and-pop. In San Francisco’s Chinatown, there are a thousand family-owned businesses.”
Young noted that the U.S. used to be made up of mom-and-pop businesses which, at one point, served as the backbone of the country. However, times have changed. Using Manhattan south of 96th St. as an example, Young said the Chinatown there is “the only neighborhood left that is predominantly mom-and-pop.”
And so it behooves us to support the American dream by supporting these businesses,” she added. “When you go to Chinatown, it’s a reminder of what it means to have human connections, and that enriches our lives immeasurably.”

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