Su-Mei Yu works the wok in her San Diego backyard

"In Thailand, the classic ways of cooking revolve around nature," says Su-Mei Yu, chef and owner of San Diego's popular Thai restaurant Saffron. At home, she and her husband, the artist Italo Scanga, follow this tradition by preparing many of their meals in their outdoor kitchen. The kitchen evolved from a sink that Scanga installed for washing his paintbrushes. Yu then brought home a small butane stove that provided the high heat she needed for stir-fries. "It's marvelous to cook outdoors," says Yu, who is working on a cookbook about Thai home cooking. "We grow fresh herbs and chiles in the yard that we pluck just as we need them. I toss eggshells and vegetable scraps under the bushes to decompose and feed the soil. It's all about keeping in balance with the world around us." And of course, Thai cooking is quick cooking--just try Yu's spicy stir-fried shrimp with basil or her tender beef with ginger and bean paste. "Once the ingredients are chopped, most of the work is done," she says.