F&W talks to Martin Yan, host of Martin Yan’s Chinatowns and Martin Yan - Quick & Easy on PBS.
What was your first big break on TV? How were you discovered?
"I was in the right place at the right time, and I was very fortunate. In the early days, very few of us planned a career toward this direction. After I graduated from college I helped a friend open a restaurant in Canada, and then one day, I received a frantic call from a local station saying their regular chef got sick, and they asked, ’Chef Yan, can you come and be a special guest for the day?’ So I said, ’Sure, oh, yeah, I’ll show up.’ I’d never been in front of a camera before. I started fooling around on-camera, and it just happened that—and this is what you call coincidence—the general manager of the channel in Calgary watched my performance. He normally watched a competitor’s station, but he just happened to turn on his own station, and I happened to be on in that particular half hour. He saw this show and said, ’Wow! We have to do a Chinese-cooking show!’"
What are some of your favorite things that you’ve made on-air?
"Sometimes I will show people how to do things that take two or three days to prepare, like Peking duck or things like that, but I prefer to cook recipes that I know people can purchase the ingredients for in a local market and prepare at home."
Do you have any cooking secrets?
"As a cooking teacher, I hold nothing back. Everybody can follow the same recipe. Even if I give you the secret recipe, if you don’t execute it properly, if you don’t know how to control the temperature and the time... the difference between a great chef and an average professional is that a great chef knows how to execute the recipes. They do it with passion-they do it with their heart. If you don’t do it with your heart and your passion, even if you do it with all of the greatest ingredients in the world, you can’t do it properly."
What distinguishes you from other TV chefs?
"The slogan on my show is, ’If Yan can cook, so can you.’ My approach is to demystify Chinese and Asian cooking. People always tell me that Asian cooking is very complicated, very time-consuming, but it isn’t as hard if you know the basic skills. If you understand the basic principal of a cuisine, and you know the basic technique, you can easily prepare delicious, healthy and wonderful food very quickly. And that’s why my latest book is Martin Yan Quick and Easy. Rachael Ray does things like 30-minute meals, and I can do it in three minutes! I can bone a chicken in 18 seconds."
How do you bone a chicken in 18 seconds?
"Practice. I always tell people that I’ve been practicing all my life, and even in a hotel, I’ll buy a chicken and practice in the hotel room—I’m just kidding. It’s a skill. The fastest I’ve done it in is 14.5 seconds. The trick is to have a very ’relaxed’ chicken: I massage my chicken and relax all the joints when I’m boning it. It’s all about practice. If you talk to any great chef, any experienced chef in the kitchen, they can do a lot of things very fast. Most people can cut with their eyes closed, and I can cut the radish and the boneless chicken with the same knife."