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Catching up with World-renowned Chef Martin Yan of Yan Can Cook in Sydney!

Updated: Oct 11, 2023

✦ Many of us grew up chanting "Yan Can Cook, and So Can You!"


Yan Can Cook and he's doing it right here in Australia, uniting cultures and showcasing Australian produce. Foodies are going wild!


Since 1982 (those living in Canada would know him from 1978), Asian families all over the world have religiously set aside an hour every week when the TV cooking series Yan Can Cook aired and it became a must-see episode for the whole family.


One could say that the chef of this series, the charismatic Martin Yan, somehow came into our lives through this square box and became a part of the family. It almost felt like we all knew him.


Many of us were mesmerised by his deft moves as his hands and fingers flew across every piece of cutlery and crockery, the way he handled ingredients was almost hypnotic and kept us glued to the screen. It was hard not to feel hungry each episode, and more than the cooking, it was also Martin Yan's energetic and enthusiastic personality that kept the audience coming back for more episodes! And Yan is funny!!


A well-loved series that endures

What is truly great about the series is how it has carried on through the years and the love for this cooking series has been passed down through generations of families. This was not some one-off series with its 5 minutes of fame only to be forgotten under the pile of ever-growing Netflix entertainment. Neither did it spawn a couple of seasons only to whittle out of fresh ideas and got cut off because it wasn't rolling in the money.


Yan Can Cook has stood the test of time, considering it blossomed in an era where there was no social media or streaming platforms, and yet everyone knew about this series by word-of-mouth. What is really impressive about this series is how it grew to become a much larger movement beyond the episodes, thanks to its chef, Martin Yan.

Just so you have an idea of what a mammoth of a series Yan Can Cook is, it has a whopping 3500 episodes!

More than a chef

Martin Yan's devotion and commitment to passing on traditional Chinese gastronomy is clearly seen in the myriad of projects he has undertaken and which went far beyond the cooking series. He has a whole host of skills up his chef's sleeve!


He has opened a chain of Yan Can Restaurants, founded a Yan Can International Cooking School in San Francisco, and has been a guest judge on various cooking programmes such as Iron Chef America, Top Chef and Hell's Kitchen in the US and Vietnam.


Just take a look at this mind-blowing list of achievements and you'd wonder if Martin Yan ever finds time to even sleep! Today Yan Can Cook, Inc. is the umbrella brand for:

  • The multiple award-winning flagship series – The Yan Can Cook Show

  • Hundreds of popular Martin Yan cooking and travel programs produced and aired in China and Southeast Asia and around the world

  • Gourmet and casual dining establishments in both China and the U.S.

  • Corporate and personalised gourmet tours to China and other Asian destinations

  • Dozens of best-selling cookbooks

  • His popular signature Chinese chef knife that he designed

  • A much in-demand lecturer and motivational speaker, charity and corporate events host around the globe

  • A full-service culinary promotional and consulting company

Watch this video and be amazed by everything chef Martin Yan has done... and continues to do!


So who is this incredible person who has done so much in his career and continues to reinvent, create and pass on his knowledge and skills in his 70s? His passion for what he does is clear, as he shows no signs of stopping. Selfishly speaking, none of us want him to stop as there is so much Martin Yan is doing that is keeping traditional Chinese cuisine very much alive and loved!


Martin Yan shared some of his nuggets of wisdom with Brilliant-Online and what a treat it is to bring them to our Brilliant readers here!


Many people have grown up watching you cook on TV and you’ve become like a part of each household or family. How do you feel about that?

I am truly honoured to have such an opportunity to reach so many. It has been a humbling experience, and I will continue to work hard.


You have a whopping 3500 episodes of Yan Can Cook - are there any that stand out or are particularly memorable for you?

For each episode of Yan Can Cook, our team pays utmost attention to detail for the on-location and studio productions. We are proud and passionate about each episode – each one holds a unique memory and experience for the production team – we hope the viewers feel the same way.


Learn how to make Asian Seafood Curry with Potato with Chef Martin Yan


What was the most exciting venture for you - opening up a chain of restaurants, cooking schools, creating cookbooks or filming cooking shows?

Most things I do are related to food and Chinese cooking – restaurants, cooking schools, cookbooks, personal appearances or culinary consulting. The recipes I develop can be for any venture or project. At the end of the day, even though I am exhausted, it is immensely satisfying to see the end result.


As an international food ambassador, how are you reaching out to people, especially the younger audience, to get them interested in Cantonese cooking?

I have been doing more videos on various social media platforms targeted to a younger audience. I focus on using fresh and seasonal ingredients and fresh seafood, in particular – that is the essence of Cantonese cuisine. These videos are short, fun and educational.




Do you see it as your mission to keep the tradition of Cantonese cooking alive with all that you are doing? What challenges have you faced in your career in bringing this cuisine to the world?

I am a native of Guangzhou, China. There is a Chinese saying, "Eat in Guangzhou". Cantonese cuisine relies on fresh, seasonal ingredients – lots of seafood – my favourite choice of ingredients for everyday cooking. As we live overseas, sometimes it is challenging to find certain fresh seasonal produce and particularly fresh seafood.


The good news is that there are more and more restaurants from China and Hong Kong that are opening around the world. With supply and demand, you can order Australian coral fish, Australian lobster and abalone in many Cantonese restaurants on the west coast and beyond– from Vancouver, San Francisco, Los Angeles to New York.


How is the culinary environment or industry different now compared to when you first started? What developments have most stuck out for you?

Now, all over the world, there are more restaurant chains of various cuisines. They have the resources the small operators don’t have – human resources, marketing, automation, new equipment which is more important than ever before. Soon, AI will take over more jobs in the industry. Let’s brace for these changes.




With increased speed and stress of living, many younger families are not even cooking much and are relying on takeouts or meal substitutes etc. Do you think traditional cooking or cuisine is under threat of extinction?

Throughout human history, the world has continued to evolve. We just have to adapt, learn new things and move on with the changing world. We all know that nothing beats a home-cooked meal shared with family and friends.

Check out Martin Yan's recipe for Spicy Meat Sauce over Mashed Potato. Simply irresistible!


What changes would you like to see in the culinary world?

I would like to see that people are more aware of what we eat and the environmental impact. Try to consume more plant-based foods, eat a healthy and well-balanced diet. I also hope that people support their local purveyors – "farm to table".


How can new and upcoming chefs grow their careers in our current economic climate given there is so much competition?

Competition always exists in every field and business sector – that allows us to be better. One just has to be creative and be flexible with whatever life brings.


Many of my restaurant friends closed their restaurants due to the pandemic and started cloud kitchens, take out delivery or became private personal chefs – many are successful. With very little investment, you can reach lots of customers.


What has always been the most important value for you that has kept you grounded throughout your career?

Humility – knowing you are never the best. You don’t have to be the best – all you want is to do better each time. I chose this profession because of love and passion for food and the opportunity to share with others. In times of difficulty, you have to have the courage and optimism to move on with life.

Claypot Rice - a one pot meal that stirs up nostalgia for many.  (Photo: Amanda Lim, Unsplash)
Claypot Rice from Martin Yan´s mother


Do you have a favourite dish or one that has a strong sentimental hold on you? Why?

Most people have their comfort food.


When I was growing up in Guangzhou, my mom often cooked clay pot rice with mushrooms, Chinese sausage and chicken. – a one pot meal.


Each time I prepare this dish, it brings back fond childhood memories like helping my mom in her tiny kitchen.


Check out recipes from Martin Yan´s mother in this video!


After all that you have achieved, what is your next endeavour or project? What do you have to look forward to next?

Cooking is my love and passion – I have been doing it for half a century. I have not changed course. I work hard every day – 6, 7 days a week and loving every minute of it. Many of my projects and personal appearances reach hundreds to thousands of people. This gives me immense personal satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment to share my passion and inspire others to cook - my mission as a culinary ambassador.


What is a nugget of wisdom you would pass on to the next generation of chefs?

Follow your instinct, never give up, move on with courage and optimism, enjoy every moment. Remember: if you love what you do, you don’t have to work a day of your life.



How do you feel about winning the James Beard Lifetime Achievement Award (the Oscar of the culinary industry) recently?

I am honoured to receive this prestigious award. As one of the few Asian chefs who have received such distinguished recognition

“I accept this award on behalf of millions of culinary professionals, particularly the Asian chefs who work 6 – 7 days a week without overtime. This award is for all of those hard-working unsung heroes in the kitchen.”



Snapshots of Chef Yan connecting with people and communities


Martin Yan in Sydney

The news of Martin Yan coming to Sydney has stirred up lots of excitement in the culinary community and all of us who love our traditional food and cooking.


This is a collaboration with Jackie M, an acclaimed Malaysian and Singaporean street food specialist, former restaurateur, TV presenter and pioneer of live cooking videos. Her following has grown to 1.9 million worldwide and is one of the most influential Australian chefs on social media. Jackie is also highly respected as one of the foremost experts in the ancient techniques and classic flavours of Malaysian cooking.


Martin Yan will be in Sydney from 11th to 16th October 2023 co-hosting with Jackie M exclusive events where you can meet both chefs, watch Martin Yan in action and of course, indulge your tastebuds in heavenly cuisine.




With everything that Martin Yan does, it is clear that Cuisine & Culture are the true protagonists of any event or endeavour he takes on. It's never about putting himself in the spotlight. When he decided to head to Sydney for this event, he had two very specific requests:

1. the theme of food being a great uniter of people from different backgrounds and culture
2. showcasing the best of Australian seafood and produce in Martin's travels and cooking demos

For Martin Yan, food is the bridge across cultures, and through his travels and cooking, he has brought cultures together, sharing our universal appreciation for good food and tradition while also honouring and highlighting the uniqueness of each culture's offerings.


Culinary enthusiasts who are following this event will be pleased to know the chefs will be travelling all over Sydney and beyond. There will be a half-day exploration of Cabramatta’s food scene, and a visit to an oyster farm in the Hawkesbury. By participating in both public and private events, both Jackie and Martin are doing this with the aim of showcasing what Australia has to offer.


Martin Yan and Jackie M events in Sydney October 2023



1. An 11-course VIP Dining Experience with Martin Yan at Chefs Gallery on Wednesday 11 October.




2. A 7-course Durian-Inspired Lunch with Martin Yan at Ipoh Hawker on Saturday 14 October.




3. A Durian Masterclass with Jackie M. & Martin Yan also at Ipoh Hawker on Saturday 14 October.




All this is more than enough to send anyone's stomach growling and saliva glands into overdrive. What a Brilliant October we're going to have in Sydney! If you are someone who grew up with Yan Can Cook, share your memories with us, and chefs and food enthusiasts out there who have benefitted from Martin Yan's recipes and knowledge, do drop us comments too!


Get your tickets soon and don't miss out on this once in a lifetime opportunity to meet Martin Yan in person.


Perhaps we need a new slogan - "Yan Can Cook, and Always Will!"

Keep the cooking flames alive, everyone!


Contacts

Yan Can Cook, Inc. Address: 1650 S. Amphlett Blvd., suite 101, San Mateo, CA 94402, USA

Tel: (650)341-0701

Fax: (650)525-0522 Email: info@yancancook.com


 

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