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Keeping It Simple: A Talk with Martin Yan by Kris Man


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Interview with Martin Yan
By Dennis A. Amith

     You've heard him say it many times, "Yan can cook and so can you!" You enjoy watching Martin Yan's cooking show "Yan Can Cook" (which happens to be the most watched cooking TV show in the world) on PBS where he travels all around the world showing the history of a country and its cuisine.

     He has entertained viewers for 21 years with his humor and cooking. You may have enjoyed reading the many books that he has written but there is more to Martin Yan that not many people see...his serious side outside of the studio.

     On November 20th, we had the opportunity to hang out with Martin before his show at the Gottschalks in Fresno and Visalia.

     What we learned is how down to earth and how serious he is in promoting Asian culture and how cool the master chef really is.

DENNIS: How does it feel to be one of the few successful Asians on TV?

MARTIN: I feel very fortunate that I was able to do things in the last 20 years that a lot of Asians were not able to do. That's why I focus on the Asian culture on our show. Very few shows truly feature lifestyle, arts and craft and philosophy. Our show serves the purpose of introducing these things that the bigger networks have no time to do.

DENNIS: Has being successful changed your life?

MARTIN: Even now, I still don't drive a fancy car or live in a mansion.

MAHITO: What is the important factor for you in cooking?

MARTIN: I think for any chef or any professional, your work should be your love. Otherwise, you'll never become successful because if you think you are good, there are a lot of people who are just as good or better than you are. If you want to be truly successful, you need to continue to be good or better in a daily basis.

MIN: When you go into a Chinese restaurant, do the owners or chef worry that they have to do a special job to impress you?

MARTIN: I don't think so. First of all, you see me on television and I'm casual. I don't put on a chef jacket on television because I don't want to intimidate people. That's why I have the slogan, "Yan can cook and so can you". I am very casual. My mother always told me that it's better to be #2 than #1. If you're #1, you can't stay there and be there forever. As long as I achieve what I want to do, which is to introduce the Asian culture and food to people. To be a culinary ambassador.

Dennis A. Amith, Martin Yan and Lee Min Low. Photography by Mahito Tomoi.

MIN: Do you cook at home?

MARTIN: Oh yes! I love to cook because I have no chance to cook at home. I cook for the whole staff. When I can't cook, I can't eat by myself, everyone comes.

DENNIS: OK Martin, it's time for the APR ultimate rice question?

MIN: What kind of rice cooker do you use?

MARTIN: I use an aroma.

MIN: What type of rice do you enjoy eating?

MARTIN: I normally combine the regular long grain rice with Thai rice. The best combination is 50% Thai long grain rice and 50% Calrose rice. Both of these have a nice aroma.

MIN: Which method do you use to cook your rice?

MARTIN: The finger method.

MIN: What do you like to eat with your rice?

MARTIN: I do a lot of one dish meals. Basically anything.

MIN: Have you ever thought of opening your own restaurant?

MARTIN: I'm a consultant for many restaurants. I don't want to have my own restaurant because why be stuck? I won't be able to do the things that I enjoy doing. I love to travel, teach, share and be creative.

MIN: Do you like spicy foods?

MARTIN: Oh yeah! When I go to Malaysia or Singapore, I like to eat a lot of spicy food. I like to eat Malaysian curry.

DENNIS: Of all the places that you have been to, what is your favorite?

MIN: Hawaii?

MARTIN: I love Hawaii! I love Vancouver! I love Boston! And I love Yosemite! I love places that are romantic and calm. I like any cities with mountain and water. You feel calm with these two and you need the balance. I like places where there are four seasons. In life, I believe you need something to look forward to, so life can be meaningful. You look forward to changes because people need a change.

MIN: Please tell us about your new book?

MARTIN: "Martin Yan: The Feast" is the latest. Also, "Introduction to Chinese Cooking". I'm in the process of finishing the book, "The Dummy's Guide to Chinese Cooking".

DENNIS: What about for television? Do you have any new plans?

MARTIN: We are doing a show on the great chef's of Hong Kong, we're doing the flavors of Taiwan and the best of Thailand.

DENNIS: Wow! You're very busy! What do you do in your free time?

MARTIN: I garden. I have a greenhouse. Many fruit trees and a vegetable garden. I like to be close to nature. I like to do work that requires my hands such as cooking and gardening.

DENNIS: What final words do you have for your fans?

MARTIN: Since we have to cook everyday, we should wish everyone good cooking and good food. When people cook together and eat together, they stay together. I think good food and good cooking brings good things to life. Because cooking is a sharing experience. We share with family and friends. The meaning of life is we work hard and we share. It's important for us to learn to understand that you really need to share.

Thank you to AsianConnections correspondent Dennis A. Amith. This interview by Dennis originally appeared in Asian Pacific Review - Vol. 5, Issue No.4




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