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Chef Interviews

For nearly thirty years, Master Chef Martin Yan has been teaching the world how to cook, and how to smile doing it.

The affable, energetic host of television shows such as ‘Yan Can Cook’ and ‘Martin Yan’s Chinatown’ is beloved by aspiring chefs the world over.

A native of Guangzhou, China, Yan is a fan of fresh, seasonal ingredients, and considers simplicity and flavor to be the main ingredients for culinary success.

He makes appearances all over the world, in person and via television and radio, and will soon be opening several more branches of his restaurant, ‘Yan Can; Fresh Asian Cooking’.

Check out his website www.yancancook.com for a list of appearances, recipes, and new and exciting projects!

EBS: What are your favorite comfort foods?
Yan: Noodles are very much a comfort food in China. I do a simple bowl of noodles. I always have fresh noodles, Chinese rice noodles, called fun, in my fridge. Sometimes when the kids get hungry I just heat up a pot and put a soup stock on. I normally have a soup stock ready, enough for the whole week. If I have frozen dumplings (I keep frozen won tons in my fridge), they’re wonderful; you can do them ahead of time. There are a lot of Asian stores where you can buy frozen dumplings. Throw in the noodles, some veggies, and you have a wonderful comfort noodle soup.

I always love to have some spicy vegetables [in the soup]. In my backyard I have mint and basil, I love to have that. In my soup base I always use green onion and ginger. I throw in some extra chopped green onion. It’s very flavorful. Sometimes I also put some cilantro. I normally cook for the family. If somebody else cooks for me, I also like to have a big bowl of noodles…I love noodles! You can serve them pan fried, deep fried, noodle soup, braised noodles, you can have cold noodles, there’s a lot of ways to have noodles.

EBS: Your father owned a restaurant and your mother ran a grocery. How did your family influence your cooking?
Yan: When I was growing up I hung around my father’s restaurant and my mom’s grocery. They used to own them, but when Communists took over, everything was nationalized and everyone was working for the state. My father’s restaurant was a neighborhood rest, served simple comfort food. Some basic stir fries, a lot of noodles. Very simple. The recipes are very simple. In those days, ingredients were not abundant. My father learned to use limited resources to produce meals.

What influenced my cooking is that I learned that there are very few tools that I need. I use only one knife and I create a hundreds of hundreds of dishes. You can use very simple ingredients. You used to go to the market and pick up what ever was in season. There were no grocery stores; not what we have available in the U.S. If fish was cheaper, you’d use more fish. My mom would raise four or five chickens. A lot of the families raised their own chickens on the patio or in the yard. You can use limited ingredients to create wonderful healthy delicious dished. You don’t need all kinds of tools to prepare banquet.

ASTV: You now live in San Francisco. What are your favorite local restaurants?
Yan: Most of the restaurants around the Chinatown area are favorites. When I do go to Chinatown I see a lot of very interesting small grocery stores, run by grandparents, elderly people who have been running the business for twenty, thirty, forty years. I love this kind of store. There’s so much history. I can talk to them about their experience, learn about the business. There are a lot of little places that are very interesting. The really, really go to little neighborhood restaurant you’ve gotta go to Chinatown.

EBS: Besides your restaurants, what are you working on right now?
Yan: I’m doing the Taste of Asia [a fundraiser for the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, March 23-25]. The Asian Art Museum isn’t just for Asians, it’s one of the most beautiful museums in the world, it’s unbelievable in terms of collection, everything. This is a big, big event. I’ll be the honorable chairperson for this three-day event. It’s presented by a lot of restaurants. There will be tastings and culinary seminars, and I’ll be doing the grand tasting presentation.

EBS: Any plans for the 2008 Beijing Olympics?
Yan: I’m participating as a judge in Beijing for the Olympic culinary competition [a competition to decide what foods will be served in the Olympic village during the Olympics.]. Many of the chefs in China will compete. I’ll be doing some of the judging, presenting some of the awards. I’ll be working with the Chinese Chefs Association to advise them on foods they should serve during the Olympic Games. Starting next year I’ll be working closely with chefs in China to give them input as to what kind of dishes to serve, how they should present them. They want to serve a lot of Chinese food during the Olympic games; some want to serve ethnic things like chicken feet and duck tongue, things like that.

EBS: What advice can you offer aspiring chefs?
Yan: First, take the fear out of your head! Don’t be afraid to try. If you think something is complicated, it is actually not that complicated; everything is in your mindset. Most Chinese and Asian cooking is very simple, and you can buy a lot of things pre-cut. It’s the prep that sometimes takes more work and skill. Cooking is a lot of fun! With stir frying and steaming, you can see what’s happening, see the color changes. Nobody can be perfect the first time around. Just take the fear out, enjoy yourself, have fun!

EBS: How would you define ‘new Asian cuisine’?
Yan: Asian cuisine has been around for hundreds and thousands of years. Each country, each region, it’s all different. There are all kinds of regional cuisine. New Asian cuisine is about a lot of crossover, a lot of cross-pollination of ingredients and flavors. It’s a new movement. The cuisine is healthy, delicious, and the flavor explodes in your mouth!

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