ANYBODY WORRIED about the decline of American inventiveness and entrepreneur spirit? Forget it. Priscilla Fournier.
Fournier, creator of Ironwood cooking utensils, is a military wife, a former home economics teacher and a likely future tycoon. To hear her talk--enthusiastic, gently voluble and clearly dynamite within--is to imagine with a certain awe the kind of Christmas bazaar she must have run when she was investing her formidable energies in volunteer work with the Air Force officers' wives' club wherever her husband's assignments took her.
One of the longer assignments was in Japan. With typical zest and dispatch, Fournier mastered the Japanese language, became the liaison between the American officers' wives and the local Japanese businessmen's wives, and learned Oriental cooking at the same time.
Stir-frying on an American stove in her Air Force quarters showed her the limitations of the classic wok for use in the United States. In the Far East, a wok is likely to sit on a brazier, with its round bottom almost nestling in a bed of charcoal. Adapted to Western conditions, it's generally used with a ring that raises it slightly above the flame of a gas stove or the heating coils of an electric range.
Ideally, stir-frying takes two hands, which means it's awkward to steady a wok which is precariously perched on its ring. It's doubly awkward to get at the potholder needed to keep the cook from burning a hand on the wok's hot metal handle.
Fournier decided that the answer for Western cooks was a cast-iron wok--which has better heat diffusion than the steel now generally used in the East--with wooden handles to make potholders unnecessary and a flat bottom for steadiness.
She knew Joyce Chen, the restaurateur and cookbook author, had already placed a flat-bottomed wok on the market. But the Chen model is flat-bottomed on the inside as well as the outside, losing the concave cooking surface so important for stir-frying.
By the time she returned to this country in 1978, Fournier had perfected her design, so she set out to locate foundries and woodworkers to produce it and went into business. It was slow going at first. She began her marketing effort by demonstrating the wok at Kitchen Bazaar in October 1978. By Christmas, she had sold only 48 woks. But shortly after that, the American wok, as she calls it, caught hold. She now has sold 4,000.
Fournier has also introduced two other utensils--a cast-iron pizza skillet and a cast-iron steak skillet, each with detachable wood-and-iron handles and each with the durability and heat-diffusion properties of iron. Now she and her husband, who has just retired, plan to move to Michigan, expanding the Ironwood operation to include a cooking school and a kitchen shop as well as the wood and iron products they now make.
Fournier has already produced a line of cookbooks to go with her wok, pizza skillet and steak skillet. She also sends customers newsletters with further recipes, kitchen tips and bits of her own cheerful philosophy.
The wok--which is locally available at Bloomingdale's at Tysons Corner, Iberian Imports in Alexandria, The Kitchen Shop in Vienna, What's Cooking in Rockville, The China Closet in Bethesda and Kitchen Bazaar on Connecticut Avenue, for about $39.95--has all the advantages Fournier claims: Heat diffusion is excellent, steadiness is admirable, and it is agreeable to touch the wood handles without a potholder. It's heavy, of course, as all iron utensils are, but there's less need to move it around than with an ordinary wok.
The pizza skillet, which can produce a pizza in about 15 minutes' cooking time (12 on top of the stove and 2 under the broiler), turns out a pizza that is less soft and doughy than most made at home, since it doesn't have a commercial oven's high heat. Local cooks who have used it testify to the agreeably crisp crust, best achieved by cooking the pizza between two burners and turning it regularly.
The American wok is further commended for versatility. It's unexpectedly good for omelets and crepes as well as for Fournier specials like these.
PUL KO KEE (Korean Barbecued Beef) (4 servings) 1 pound top round beef, thinly sliced in strips 3 tablespoons brown sugar 1 tablespoon soy sauce 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon pepper 5 tablespoons roasted sesame seeds, ground 5 tablespoons sesame oil 1 clove garlic, crushed 2 scallions, green part included, finely chopped
Mix beef, sugar, soy sauce, salt and pepper, half the sesame seeds, 4 tablespoons sesame oil, garlic and scallions. Set aside at room temperature for 2 hours, basting and turning meat from time to time. Preheat wok. Stir-fry quickly in 1 tablespoon sesame oil until browned. Remove from heat, sprinkle the remaining sesame seeds over the mixture. Serve at once with hot rice.
MARINATED SHRIMP (4 servings) 1 clove garlic, crushed 1 teaspoon lemon juice 2 tablespoons oil 1 pound raw shrimp, peeled and cleaned 1 tablespoon wine vinegar 1 tablespoon light soy sauce 1/2 cup consomme' or beef broth 1 tablespoon cornstarch
Stir-fry together the garlic, lemon juice, oil, shrimp, vinegar and soy sauce for 3 minutes. Combine broth with cornstarch and add to shrimp. Stir-fry 2 minutes more. Serve hot over ric
SWEET AND SOUR PORK (4 servings) 1 pound pork loin, cut in cubes%T4 tablespoons cornstarch%T3 tablespoons flour tablespoons sherry Oil for deep frying$51 green pepper, sliced$51 medium onion, sliced$53 carrots, sliced$56-ounce can bamboo shoots, sliced 6-ounce can diced pineapple 4 tablespoons soy sauce 3 tablespoons vinegar
6 tablespoons sugar 4 tablespoons ketchup 1/2 cup water
Mix meat with 3 tablespoons cornstarch, flour and 3 tablespoons sherry. Marinate 10 minutes. Fry in deep oil until evenly browned. Set aside. Place 3 tablespoons oil in wok. Stir-fry green pepper, onion, carrots, bamboo shoots and pineapple. Combine 4 tablespoons sherry, soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, ketchup, remaining tablespoon cornstarch and water, and add to wok. Add cooked pork. Stir-fry until sauce thickens. Serve hot over rice.