Cooking His Way to the Top

Martin Yan
International Celebrity Chef

“As an Asian, I feel that I have a responsibility to promote Asia and to inspire young Asians all in the spirit of ‘Yan Can Cook’.”

Many years before the term “celebrity chef” were coined, there is one familiar chef who appeared on TV regularly sharing easy to follow recipes. Chef extraordinaire Martin Yan of “Yan Can Cook” is almost a household name due to his successful series that had spanned decades. Here, the chef shares his success story with ez and talks about the challenges he faced before receiving international acclaim.

He first started by helping a friend in a restaurant in Canada located near the TV station and one day, he was asked to fill in for a chef that didn’t turn up for one of the TV shows. That was Yan’s big break in TV and a few years after that fateful day in 1978, PBS debut “Yan Can Cook” with Yan as the host. The rest, as we say, is television history as Yan went on to become a phenomenal success and today, he has more than 3,000 episodes of “Yan Can Cook” under his belt.

The series was such a success that Yan became a well-known celebrity chef the world over and currently, he also hosts the “Martin Yan – Quick & Easy” series. However, easy as it seemed, Yan admitted it was a tough road to travel before he reached such success.”I came from a very poor family and my mother sent me off to study in Hong Kong at the age of 12 but the one thing my mother told me, that I will always remember, is to always be humble,” he said.

Yan may have travelled around the world and have rubbed shoulders with other celebrity chefs like Anthony Bourdain but he is determined to keep his feet strongly planted on the ground. “There is this Cantonese saying “people are afraid of becoming too famous and pigs are afraid of becoming too fat” so I always tell people that there are so many great chefs out there who are much better than me,” he said. His down-to-earth demeanour and humbleness has earned him many close friendships and almost guaranteed his continued popularity as a celebrity chef.

Yan took a trip to Malaysia for his upcoming travel and food programme “Taste of Malaysia” recently. The China-born Hong Kong-American said he visited all the states in Malaysia to showcase not only the food but also the places of interest.”I am proud to be an “ambassador” for Malaysia to showcase its wonderful food and its beautiful destinations,” he said. On the 26-episode programme, Yan said it will place more emphasis on traditional fare of the Asian culture and how it has evolved over time.

“Taste of Malaysia”, which will be aired on NTV7, 8TV and Asia Food Channel (AFC) in Malaysia, is expected to reach a wide audience of up to three billion people worldwide when it is aired in September. “As an Asian, I feel that I have a responsibility to promote Asia and to inspire young Asians all in the spirit of ‘Yan Can Cook’,” he said. The upcoming series is more than a cooking show but a promotion of local flavours, heritage, culture and arts, Yan said.

Yan has not been to Malaysia for over 18 years until middle of this year and he finds that the country has much to offer in terms of variety of food, culture and traditions. “Malaysia is different from other countries I’ve been because it has diversity due to its multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-religious society,” he said. Yan visited Penang for five days, documenting the local hawker fare before he went on to other states in the country.

When asked if he will consider retiring soon, Yan said his “work” is not done and it will never be done. “What I’m doing now is not a job but a passion and there’s no retiring from my passion in life,” he said. The 67-year-old added that he has friends in their 80s and 90s who are still cooking so there’s no reason for him to stop cooking and hosting his cooking, food and travel shows.

After Malaysia, Yan will continue his work as an international food ambassador by visiting more countries to showcase their food while at the same time sharing his passion for food and Chinese cooking.

Martine Yan2

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