2016.037.029 Oral History Interview with Martin Yan 2015/12/11
Chef Martin Yan discusses the experiences that have made him the chef and television personality he is today. Martin grew up in Guangzhou during a turbulent period in modern China when there was famine and political unrest. Since childhood, he was exposed to food and ingredients because his parents owned a small restaurant and grocery store. He ate his mothers cooking and explains how it was necessary to stretch the limited ingredients available. He moved to Hong Kong for the opportunity to attend a Christian high school while working at a popular catering restaurant as a kitchen helper and a barbeque chef. After graduating from high school, he learned from a professional chef for about eight months. In exchange for free lessons, he helped the chef shop and prep the ingredients, a practice that helped him learn to identify what is fresh. With sponsorship from a Christian church, he went abroad to America to attend school. Struggling to make enough money for college, Martin persisted in acquiring a job despite being under qualified. He started holding a cooking class teaching local professionals about Chinese cuisine and culture at the University of California Davis, doing catering and pursuing his degree. After completing his degree, he immigrated to Canada and partnered up with a friend from Hong Kong to open a restaurant. He is recruited to be a replacement by a local radio stations personnel who frequented the restaurant to be a stand-in for a talk show program. Martin receives an offer to make the first season of his Yan Can Cook series, proceeds to publish a recipe cook book and completes two more seasons of the show. Now, he continues to travel the world to taste food and learn about other cultures, attend conferences, give lectures and cook. He discusses the recent trends of Chinese cuisine becoming specific and diversified and the differences between Western and Eastern food culture. Martin emphasizes the importance of being himself, upholding confidence, and continuing to persist to overcome struggles and survive. Most of all, with his passionate career of cooking, teaching, and sharing his craft with the world, he feels proud to be a Chinese American and encourages everyone to have fun in whatever they do.

0:00 - Introduction and background of Martin Yan, growing up during a time of political unrest, food during the time of famine, exposure to food and ingredients growing up, working in his uncle’s restaurant, learning different cooking techniques in the restaurant.

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8:39 - Going to high school while working at the restaurant, lack of education for his parents, immigrating to America, hustling his way into college and teaching job at UC Davis, watching Julia Child, doing catering and odd jobs to survive.

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18:20 - Subjects covered in his cooking class, students, having fun together, building confidence, trying American foods for the first time, getting citizenship in Canada, opening a restaurant, meeting cameramen and journalists at the restaurant, getting on TV for the first time, publishing first book and career taking off.

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32:37 - No recipes, recipe testing for the book, unexpected popularity of the show, keeping a low profile, sense of achievement as an Asian, did not experience racism, using humor to bridge the gap between different kinds of people.

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39:34 - Specific dish representing his style, learning from the food cultures of other Asian countries, eating locally, popularizing Chinese food, immigration from China opening up and Asian ingredients becoming more mainstream.

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43:30 - Sophistication of modern Chinese cuisine, regional differences are represented by restaurants all over the US, food philosophy, good food makes a great nation, eating as entertainment.

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47:12 - Favorite foods and dishes, importance of ginger in Chinese cuisine, comfort food growing up, content knowing his show has helped people and inspired them, proud to be Asian, food is about sharing, uniqueness of America.

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