Podcast Episode 22

Build A Food Brand That Reaches Millions: If Chef Yan Can Do It, So Can You

Martin Yan | 39 Minutes | November 23, 2021

In this episode, we speak with Chef Martin Yan, a renowned Chinese-American chef, cookbook author, and host of the award winning PBS-TV cooking show Yan Can Cook.

Chef Martin has hosted more than 1500 episodes of Yan Can Cook over the past four decades – a show which has been broadcast in over 50 countries. As an author, he’s written over two dozen cook books and continues to inspire and support aspiring chefs.

Listen as we chat with Chef Martin about building community by sharing food, celebrating Asian cuisine, evolving as a content creator, and building a brand.

Watch the podcast episode:

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Notes & Transcript


Kirk Bachmann: Hi everyone. My name is Kirk Bachmann, and welcome back to The Ultimate Dish. In today’s episode, we’re speaking with Marin Yan, a renowned Chinese-American chef, cookbook author, chefpreneur and host of the award-winning PBS TV cooking show, “Yan Can Cook.” Chef Yan has hosted over 1500 episodes over the past four decades that have been broadcast in over 50 countries. He has written over a dozen cookbooks, and founded the Yan Can International Cooking School in San Francisco.

Join us today as we chat with Chef Yan about how he uses food to build community and promote cultural diversity, and what it takes to turn a small cooking school into a Daytime Emmy and James Beard award-winning show.

Chef! Welcome! Thank you so much for being here this morning. How are you?

Martin Yan: My pleasure. It’s been a long time.

Kirk Bachmann: It’s been too long. It’s been too long. Probably a couple of years ago at the National Association Show that I last saw you. You look phenomenal. You look great.

Martin Yan: I feel good. I’m always reinventing myself, just like anything else. A crisis is always an opportunity. I’m honored to share my culinary journey, my life journey, with you and your students and your college.

Kirk Bachmann: I love it, Chef. Before we even get started: I’m so honored that you’re here. We’ve known each other a long time. {holds up Chef Yan’s book} One of my prize possessions, among others – this book was published in the ‘90s, I have to read it. What you said was, “To Chef Kirk: Food and passion for life.” Food and passion for life. Absolutely love it.

How’s the family by the way.

Martin Yan: They’re doing well. We just had our third shot, so everything is going well.

Introduction to Food in Communist China

Kirk Bachmann: Great. Not too long ago, you said that when it comes to cooking you didn’t work in the kitchen because you loved to cook, but that you had no choice. I’m taking you all the way back to China when you were growing up. How were you first introduced to the kitchen? This was so long before you became a celebrity on television. What made you decide to become a professional chef?

Martin Yan: To make a long story short: before I was born, my father actually ran a small, very successful 60-seat restaurant in the heart of Guangzhou, China, where I was born. My mother actually ran and owned a grocery store about a block away, so when I was a little kid, I would run around between the grocery story. I knew all the soy sauce, the hoisan sauce, black bean sauce, tofu, and fermented bean curd. Dinner time, I would go to my father’s restaurant. I started basically from the ground up when I was little kid. I would crawl around and pick up all these droppings of food up off the floor. I have a taste for good food.

This is the first introduction that I had with food in the true sense. In those days, the communists took over the business, so my father and mother ended up working for the state, for the city instead of owning their business. Life was pretty tough. We grew up in a very terrible time in modern Chinese history. As a kid, most of us went to bed hungry, because everything was rationed. Each month, we only had four ounces of oil and two pounds of meat. For a whole month! Meat means pork. No chicken, no beef, no seafood, nothing. Just two pounds. So you had a quarter of a cup of oil. You had to spread it out for the whole month. My parents instead of owning a restaurant, they ended up working. Food was very precious. Anything that you can find, anything you eat, anything you can eat and maintain your life and your health, you’ve got to eat it. It has been very tough.

Kirk Bachmann: Did you have siblings growing up as well?

Martin Yan: Yeah. I have a younger brother. He always wanted to be a chef. When I was 13, I left China. My father passed away when I was about five or six years old. We left China and I went to Hong Kong and stayed with a distant uncle while I went to high school. I actually worked in the restaurant after school, on weekends, and also in the summer. Basically, I had the opportunity to practice cutting vegetables, filleting fish, boning a chicken. That’s why I always joke with people, “I can bone a chicken in 18.2 seconds.”

Kirk Bachmann: Yes, you can! The area where you grew up is one of the largest cities in the region, and the birthplace of Cantonese cuisine, right?

Martin Yan: Yes.

Kirk Bachmann: My understanding of that cuisine – what I love is the sweet sauces with the vegetables and the pork.

Martin Yan: A lot of stir fry.

The Importance of Southern China

Kirk Bachmann: You left when you were 13. You were in Hong Kong. How did the traditions of the area where you grew up in your memories influence who you became down the road? How did it influence your culinary journey?

Martin Yan: Once I went to Hong Kong, because I was so hungry when I was in China, to be able to feed myself, I decided the best thing is to be close to the kitchen. So I figured out if I ever grew up and had the opportunity, I would definitely spend my whole life around food, whether working with food or working in the restaurant. This is the beginning of my desire to become a chef. I wanted to be close to the food. I don’t go hungry anymore. Because when I was growing up, I was hungry.

Canton is in the southern part of China. The Pearl River delta is very fertile, only one or two seasons. There is no winter. There’s no snow, so it’s very fertile. All the deltas are like that: the Louisiana delta, the Mississippi delta, that San Joaquin delta. A lot of these deltas are very fertile. A lot of produce. Cantonese food focuses on freshness, season. Eat with the season. Eat with the freshness. This is the essence of Cantonese cuisine. It’s unlike other parts of [China], northern China, or the western part of China, which is desert, or Tibet, which is very cold. There’s only one season, one crop. In southern China, in the Guangzhou area, three crops or four crops. We were very lucky, just like California. Very productive agricultural land.

The Cantonese cuisine, in the very beginning, most of the Chinese restaurants in the U.S. is Cantonese cuisine because most of these immigrants are from southern China. They first came to build the railroad, to work in the gold mines. Later, they opened the laundromats, and then restaurants. Most of these people came from southern China.

Freedom to Cook and Find Instant Gratification

Kirk Bachmann: Your father passed away at a young age, but obviously there was an influence from both your mother and your father around food. When you relocated to Hong Kong, you continued to work in restaurants. Was there another influence? Was there a chef or chefs that helped define who you became as a cook as you grew up?

Martin Yan: Going back to the question you had, you said that this was not really something that I really wanted to do in the beginning in China. Eventually, my life experience from Guangzhou, going to bed hungry most of the time. Going to Hong Kong, working in a restaurant, going to high school. They gave me a taste of, “Hey, if I have something to eat, I can sustain my health. I can work.”

Unlike the U.S. where you can pick your dream, and you can go to this school, in China, as a young kid, you can’t. Everything is determined and decided by the officials. If you live in the east, you cannot move to the western part of the city. If you live in the south, you cannot move to the north. We grew up and lived in America, and we are so blessed to be American. That’s why I always say it is a great country.

So looking back on my career in the last 52 years, I’ve been working with food. Of that, 42 years on television. To me, food is about sharing. Food gives you instant gratification, unlike a painter. You paint. You may not be able to get your song out of the studio, to the radio station and the DJ. But food, as a chef, you cook whether you cook at home or you cook in a restaurant, instantly: gratification. You see everybody licking the plate. The plate is nice and clean. You feel good. That’s what reinforced my desire to be a chef at that point.

Of course, during my college education, I was teaching a cooking class to just make ends meet, to make enough money to go to school and pay the tuition fees. Always, always worrying about not having money to pay tuition fees. Foreign students pay three times as much. All of these episodes in life allowed me to build my character and my determination to associate with food. Eventually I had a Master’s Degree in food science. I’m one of the few chefs in the early days who was a chef, but also involved and educated in food.

The Evolution of Chinese Food in America

Kirk Bachmann: I know that education has always been very, very important to you. Your story reminds me so much. My father is also an immigrant, came over from Germany in 1960. What you said about sharing food with others is what motivated him as well. I just love that story.

One of the most famous catchphrases. “If Yan can do it, so can you!” Brilliant! In a beautiful way, it’s almost an open invitation to anyone who might be interested in Chinese cuisine. A genuine way of breaking down barriers. It could be intimidating if you don’t know anything about the region or the type of products that are grown in that part of the country. What is or became your motivation for sharing your passion for cooking Chinese cuisine for the greater population? What keeps that passion alive for you today?

Martin Yan: When I first landed in this great country and I tried to eat Chinese food – and you know that in the old days, looking back 40, 50 years ago, there were only about 3000-4000 Chinese restaurants scattered all over the place. Most of them were basically chop suey and chow mein restaurants, mom and pop shops.

Throughout the years, sometimes I wanted to cook and I could never find a restaurant that could offer things that my mother or my father could prepare in the restaurant. I started to figure out that we had to do something. Every time I wanted to get an ingredient, I had to drive all the way to Chinatown in San Francisco, which was about an hour and a half to two hours from U.C. Davis. I figured out, maybe we could introduce cooking to people.

So I started teaching cooking classes, and people always asked me, they were always curious, “Is Chinese food very complicated, very time consuming?” They were curious. It was very mysterious because it had a lot of different types of seasoning and produce and vegetables. I said, “Everything I cook, everything I teach you, you can do it at home. So if I can do it, you can do it.” That’s how it came out with the “If Yan can cook, so can you” slogan. I wanted to demystify. I don’t want to discourage people. I want to encourage people to be able to do things that I enjoy myself.

Nowadays, after 50 years, there are 55,000 Chinese restaurants all over the U.S. There are more than all the chain and fast food restaurants combined. Around 16,000 Asian restaurants. This is amazing. It’s become mainstream diet. I guarantee that everybody, whether in Chicago, Colorado, anywhere you go, there’s always Chinese restaurant. People go to Chinese restaurants once in a while, and it becomes very popular. There are more Chinese restaurants than Italian and Mexican cuisine, including pizza restaurants.

It’s also acceptance. It’s also eating something fresh, natural, because we never overcook the vegetables. You always use the flavor of your vegetable. The Chinese were leading in the plant-based diet for a long, long time. The Japanese, the Indian, the Chinese, they have a lot of vegetarian restaurants. When they talk about eating, it is basically a vegetable diet. Not a plant-based or vegan diet, but a plant-based diet you eat a lot of vegetables.

The Equalizers of Food and Round Tables

Kirk Bachmann: Vegetable-centric. I loved your comments about how your mother influenced you. So many great chefs share that same memory.

It’s interesting, the growth of this particular ethnic cuisine. Historically, there’s been some xenophobia around ethnic foods, particularly 20 to 40 years ago. So as a celebrity, what would you say is your role, and other celebrities like you that have public platforms, to make a difference? Has your role changed over the last 20 or 30 years?

Martin Yan: As a chef, we’re lucky because food is an equalizer. We all have to eat. Food has no national boundary. If good food, whether it is Italian, Indian, Japanese, Russian, Cajun, Cantonese, or Mandarin, as long as it tastes good, as long as it’s good, it’s good food! There’s no national boundary. Food brings people together. Food is a bridge for all of us. The reason why you go to a typical Chinese restaurant, the tables are always round, never long tables. Everybody can eat together and talk to each other and communicate. The table is a place that we share not only good food, but share our story, share our good life, share our philosophy. That’s the reason why a round table. That’s why we say a “round table conference” or “round table meeting.” So you can talk to each other. The Chinese do not like to sit at a long table like a wagon. You cannot talk to anybody! Round table. Always round table.

Kirk Bachmann: I love that story. You may not remember this, this was years ago: we were in Chicago, in Chinatown, and you took me to a favorite restaurant of yours. We went into a back room behind a bunch of doors and we went and sat at a round table. Several of your friends were around the table. We experienced a lot of cuisine that I had never experienced before. You made sure that I sat right next to you, and gave me direction on what I should and should not try. What a great memory! I had forgotten all about that.

You’ve sort of answered this, but whatever research you do, it suggests that Chinese food is the number one ethnic food choice for people in North America.

Martin Yan: Along with Italian and Mexican cuisine. Very popular. These are the three most popular ethnic cuisine. But in terms of number of restaurants, there are more Chinese restaurants by far than others.

Accepting Ethnic Cuisine

Kirk Bachmann: Is there anything that you believe that has happened in the last 20 or 30 years that shifted people’s acceptance of Chinese cuisine? We could talk about Italian and Mexican cuisine as well. What was it? You’ve touched on it a little bit, but was there anything more significant that allowed people to accept ethnic food? Was it just the sheer number of opportunities or variety?

Martin Yan: There are two reasons. People are curious. People are always trying something new, and this is what makes America great. We have imagination. We have curiosity. We’re always looking for something new, and that’s the reason there are so many innovations in technology and a lot of things.

And also, in recent years, people tend to travel a lot more because of international trade. Every year, I take people on a culinary tour to Asia. We went to Japan, Korea, southeast Asia, Thailand. Everywhere. People were exposed to a lot of things, things that people had never tasted before. Food that people had never tasted before, and all of a sudden they find out, “Wow! This is exciting!” A lot of ramen. A lot of sushi.

I remember when I first came over here, there were very sushi restaurants, ramen restaurant. Vietnamese noodle restaurants. They are popping up all over the place. Thai restaurants. Cambodian restaurants. Burmese restaurants. They are all over. Cajun restaurants popularized by K-Paul and Emeril. All it takes is a few people to take the lead, to introduce. Now, everywhere you turn around, any city with a couple thousand people, you’ll find at least a couple of Chinese restaurants.

The Long Reach of Social Media

Kirk Bachmann: Absolutely. Chef, you’ve been creating what this current generation now calls “content” for many, many years via television media, PBS. Your cooking show is still syndicated around the world, making it one of the longest running American cooking programs of all time. With the ability to bring the audience, I would say, to platforms like YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, even TikTok today, how was your approach to cooking changed over time to make sure you engage with this new audience?

Martin Yan: As I mentioned earlier, when you get into a road block, a dead end, you have to learn to overcome. Come back and think, “What can I do?” For almost 40 years, the Yan Can Cook show started in 1979, so it’s been around for many, many years. In the beginning, it was just Julia Child French Chef, Graham Kerr’s Galloping Gourmet. And then the Yan Can Cook show. Years later, the Food Network and our good friend Jacques Pepin and all those people. We have the opportunity to really reach a lot of people on the big screen.

Nowadays, during the pandemic, everybody got stuck. We can not go out of the country. Every country is closed in quarantine, so we can not film any more. We decided to get into social media, which I haven’t done for years. We do a lot of YouTube, a lot of Facebook, a lot of Instagram and all kinds of things. I haven’t touched on TikTok yet. TikTok is too short. I want to have enough time to really show people how to cook. That’s the reason why TikTok, at this moment, is not really my platform yet.

In the old days when I’d do a live appearance, when I’d do a cooking class, I’d reach about 20 people, 50 people, maybe 200 or 300 people when I’d do live. But now, with social media, you can reach millions of people. Recently, I did an event for the Asian Art Museum and the San Francisco Public Library. 1600 people signed up. There are people signed up from Ireland, from London, from Perth, Australia, and Auckland, New Zealand. They get all of these worldwide. Social media is global, worldwide. That means you are able to reach a lot more people in a short period of time, in one hour.

Recently, I did an event for Hewlett-Packard Enterprise, a staff appreciation day. In the evening, about six o’clock, we did the Asian region, which is about two or three billion people, because they have factories and offices all over Asia; in India, in China, in Japan, in Korea, Taiwan and Singapore. Then, we moved on. At about one o’clock in the morning, we did the European region. And then at ten o’clock in the morning, we did the Americas, North and South America. In an eight hour period we reached 28,000 of their staff all over the world. That’s how powerful it is.

In the past, we would never have been able to do. Now, we communicate with people. When there is crisis, there is always opportunity. You have to learn to reinvent yourself, to create something you probably have never dreamed of. That’s what we’re doing. We continue to create, continue to look at opportunity and take advantage of opportunity. Instead of sitting there and feeling sorry for yourself, sorry for your profession, we just move on.

Kirk Bachmann: Just do it.

Martin Yan: Just do it.

Keep it Fresh and Build a Brand

Kirk Bachmann: To that point, there are so many culinary influencers out there today. Do you have any specific advice to them about how to build their own brand so that they can have sustainability? You’ve been doing this for decades, and it always feels fresh. Any advice for those who are just getting started?

Martin Yan: Well, I’m fortunate. Throughout the years, I’ve traveled all over the world, pre-pandemic. I actually traveled about 250 days a year, worldwide, all over the U.S.. That’s why we do presentations with your students in the past in the Chicago area, all over the place. I travel all over the world. I’m working with home chefs as well as top chefs around the world. I have the opportunity to work with Gordon Ramsey and Emeril and appear on their show. We do a lot of Iron Chef and Top Chef. By doing that, I get a chance to expose and connect myself with all these top people, very creative minds. They have a lot of imagination. And the reason why they are successful is because they love what they do. They are passionate at what they do. That’s the reason why these people never give up. If they close the restaurant, they try to open another one somewhere else. Nobody would have the touch to turn everything into gold, except the owner of Tesla. But most of us, sometimes we’ve gotten to a stumbling block and we’ve got to reflect.

The key is, I think, to make sure whatever you do is new. To create curiosity and build brands. “Yan can cook, so can you” is a brand. Yan can cook is an international brand. When I go to Asia and I say, “Yan can cook,” everybody says, “So can I,” or “So can you.” It’s become a brand. So I think it’s important for the influencer to do something new. Don’t draw on the same thing, do the same thing. If you do the same thing over and over again, people get tired. They don’t necessarily get fed up, but they get tired. So you’ve got to be fresh. You’ve got to create something to captivate their attention. Create something that attracts the curiosity.

That’s the reason why we do not just Chinese food. I travel to Thailand. I travel to Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan, Korea. I just did a show called, “Chef Yan Live, Korea.” Korean food live. We travel all the way from North Korea to Jeju Island. I’m working with all the top chefs. I don’t even know how to speak Korean, so I work with the local chef. A lot of them are actually probably some of them are your students. They accompany me. We travel all over the place, working with home cooks. We cook in somebody’s house, in a village, in a farm, and we’re working with top chefs. So continue to create something new. New content.

Build your brand. I always use the slogan so people can remember my show. When I first talk about, “Yan can cook for you.” Of course, now I always say, “If Yan can cook, so can you.” Very important to have that. You remember, Johnny Carson had a trademark, towards the end he always said, “Swing the golf club.”

Kirk Bachmann: Swing the golf club.

Martin Yan: It’s very important to create something people remember. They may not remember your name, but they’ll remember what you said and what you do, and also what you mention towards the end. It’s very important. The beginning you have to make sure you’re attract and captivate the audience, their attention, in the first fifteen or twenty seconds. Let them stay on with you.

In most of my live presentations, people don’t leave. They just stay around.

Kirk Bachmann: Yeah, they’re captivated. That’s great advice. No one forgets, “Yan can cook.”

So when you were 33, you became one of the first people of Asian descent to host a cooking show in the United States. Like we said earlier, you’ve filmed more than 1500 episodes. It’s amazing. How significant is that achievement for you? For those that can’t measure how many shows that it’s been, that’s more episodes than Friends combined over a decade.

Martin Yan: Actually, let’s make a little update and correction. The 1500 cooking show information was in Google somewhere, or Yahoo!. It’s outdated. So far, up to today, I’ve done over 3500 episodes worldwide.

Kirk Bachmann: So double what we’re talking about.

Martin Yan: The reason is that a lot of times besides the Yan Can Cook show that I did the U.S., I also do shows in Thailand and Malaysia and Vietnam and China and Taiwan and Singapore. I did shows in Singapore for ten years, an English program as well as a Chinese program. For ten years! I’ve done several hundred cooking shows just in Singapore alone.

And then, also, throughout the years, the amazing thing is I always come out of something refreshed. Because when you travel, you learn. You never stop learning. Always keep a sense of curiosity. For me, it’s about sharing with people, and I have never gotten tired by sharing. If I’m cooking a dish, if I have something more, I’ll take it to my neighbor. I always take it to my neighbor. This is called sharing. Sharing is important.

Passion and Curiosity

Kirk Bachmann: After all these years, if there was one thing that you might do differently back when you were 33, what would that be? Or would you not change a thing?

Martin Yan: Another thing is, I was the first Asian-American to host a daily food and travel show. Before that, Julia Child and Graham Kerr and even a couple other people have done some shows, but it was not a daily. When we do the show, we used to do 130 shows in 25 days in a month. And then air every day for six months, they repeat for another six months. That’s how we build the thing.

The thing is, if I have some thoughts to share with our young friends, the most important thing is follow your instinct. Make sure you love what you do, whether you are an artist. Cooking is an art! You’re an artist. We are magicians. We turn something very simple into something spectacular, something nourishing, something healthy. So I think it is important that you ask yourself: you love food. You love what you do. Not because you see Chef Kirk Bachmann, Chef Martin Yan, or Bobby Flay or Emeril. They’re celebrity! We are in the business. You ask any of the celebrity chefs, they set out to be a chef. They love what they do. They continue to do it. Just like Jack Nicholson, just like Tiger Woods. They make too much money. They make more money than they ever can spend. But they still do it because, you know why? They love the golf course. They love the game of golf. You’ve got to have that kind of sense of passion to do it. Passion started with not only something that you love. If you don’t like something, you don’t like the job, you don’t like your work, you can’t have passion. Without feeling that you love what you do, you don’t have curiosity. You don’t learn. Very important.

Kirk Bachmann: That’s the feel. It’s a great message for students. There’s got to be that passion for the career. 100 percent.

You mentioned some celebrity chef names. You’ve had so many guests over the years. Is there one specific incident that you can share with us? One really, really remarkable episode with one of these guest chefs that you can share a little story behind the scenes with us?

A Surprise in Skill

Martin Yan: We worked with a lot of guest chefs. Eventually they are all on television. We worked with Ming Tsai. We worked with Jacques. I remember, I worked with Emeril and hosting a lot of chefs, including my good friend Roy Yamaguchi of Roy’s Restaurant.

One time I still remember, I was challenging Jacques to bone a chicken. He loved to use the six-inch knife, right? And I used the big knife.

Kirk Bachmann: The big cleaver.

Martin Yan: Let’s do it. Give them room, we’re done. I was so amazed that as a chef the skill, it doesn’t matter what tool you use, you can do it just as fast, just as well. We ended up almost one and one.

Kirk Bachmann: Really!? Wow!

Martin Yan: It was very fast. I thought that I would be faster, but it turned out to be very, very close. I was so impressed.

Kirk Bachmann: That’s impressive.

Martin Yan: Just like any skill. I always tell people, as a chef, as a professional, it’s not just reading the recipe, but do it!

Kirk Bachmann: And Jacques is still cooking. He’s still cooking.

Giving Back to Young People

Martin Yan: He’s still cooking. It’s from his Jacques Pepin’s Foundation. I just contributed to a cooking video so he can share with all the young chefs and up-and-coming chefs. With the U.C. Davis library, and a full-size department, is creating Chef Martin Yan’s culinary archive.

Kirk Bachmann: That’s wonderful! Congratulations!

Martin Yan: Basically focused on Asian cuisine. Eventually, anybody who wants to learn and find out more about Asian cooking, not only Chinese, I donated about three or four thousand cookbooks and I’m going to encourage all my friends to donate Asian cookbooks to the archive.

Kirk Bachmann: That’s wonderful.

Martin Yan: So all of us continue to try to share our passion.

Kirk Bachmann: To give back.

Martin Yan: Give it back. Because Jacques is very nurturing to young chefs. My good friend, Julia, also very nurturing to a young chef. I know Roy trained a lot of chefs. I travel around the world and do a lot of culinary school presentations and form and commencement speeches. We do a lot of those. I try to inspire young people. I try to share my passion. Tell them that passion comes first from confidence, optimism, courage. Never give up. Most people never make it because they give up in the middle of the road. Never, never give up. That’s the key to success.

Kirk Bachmann: That’s great, great advice.

We’re hopefully coming out of this pandemic. Anything you can share in terms of how you had to pivot, change your business approach over the last couple of years? It was very, very difficult for a lot of restaurateurs. Anything specific that you had to do differently?

Martin Yan: I remember. I always tell people, “Life is just like a wave, an ocean. Up and down. Come in and out. Nothing is ever secure. People grow older, and you change your style. As long as you believe in yourself, as long as you’re confident, you can always find way to survive. The survival instinct. If you do not have crisis, you do not know how to survive. Sometimes, you feel. You fall down. You know what? You get up! And move on. And that’s the key.

My advice to most of our young friends is to trust yourself. Trust your instinct. Believe in yourself. Then if something happens, don’t get discouraged. Just move on. Look at a lot of my chef friends. They start the cloud kitchen. They create wonderful things. I just met a good chef. He was in the top chef, and I was one of the judges Iron Chef, Top Chef, and Monster Chef. He closed his restaurant during the pandemic, but he started take out. He got a really small community kitchen. It’s lining up. His restaurant is not open, there is no indoor dining. But people are lining up! As long as people get out the plate, they go to his place. Because he’s doing something very, very fun, very affordable, and it’s absolutely delicious. Reinvent yourself. Always reinvent yourself.

Chef Yan’s Ultimate Dish

Kirk Bachmann: Great, great advice. Chef, we’re coming to the end of our time together, but before I let you go, the name of the podcast is The Ultimate Dish. So for you and your family, what is the ultimate dish?

Martin Yan: Our ultimate dish is always comfort food. When you grew up eating what your mother, your grandmother prepared you, this is always your favorite. When I was growing up, my mother always fixed a one-pot meal with a clay pot. I still do it for my family and myself. I have a little clay pot. I clean the rice and soak the rice. When the rice is almost ready, about 20 minutes, uncover, and I’ll put some chicken, mushrooms, cilantro, green onion and a sprinkle, and put a kind of soy sauce, and finish cooking. By the time it’s finished, I have a one-dish meal. You’ve got starch, which is rice. You’ve got chicken, which is protein. You’ve got vegetables. You’ve got a couple bok choy. When the rice is finished, the chicken is perfectly done. It’s not overcooked because the rice is almost cooked before I put in the chicken and the shiitake mushroom and the bok choy. So when the rice is done, everything is done. One-pot meal. All I have to do is just wash the clay pot. I still enjoy doing that, so that’s my ultimate dish.

Kirk Bachmann: I love it. So beautifully said. Chef, I’m so honored. Thank you for taking the time. You look phenomenal. It was great spending some time with you. I hope we can do it again. Thank you so much.

Martin Yan: My pleasure. And I wish you and the rising stars, young chefs, continued success. Remember: love what you do, you don’t ever work a day of your life. Be passionate. Never give up.

Kirk Bachmann: I love it.

Martin Yan: Yan can cook. So can you!

Kirk Bachmann: I love it, Chef. Thanks so much. And thank you for listening to the Ultimate Dish podcast, brought to you by Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts. Visit Escoffier.edu/podcast where you’ll find any materials mentioned during the podcast, including notes, links, and other resources. You can also browse other episodes and subscribe.

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