Page One

TV chef Yan opens first Yan Can restaurant

By Margie Mason The Associated Press
Thursday June 27, 2002

PLEASANT HILL — Even with all Martin Yan’s spunk, the television chef whose “Yan Can Cook” show is broadcast in 70 countries says he just couldn’t feed everybody who wanted to try a bite of his tasty Asian concoctions — until now. 

Yan’s first fast, casual restaurant opened this week, offering his recipes for everything from Thai curry to Korean barbecue. And he says it’s just the beginning. The energetic, sometimes zany master chef says he hopes his Yan Can restaurants will grow into a national chain. 

Four other California restaurants already are in the works as part of the pilot project. 

“Often times I go out and people always say, ’You know Martin, are you a good cook?’ And what can you say since they never can get a chance to taste the food I cook unless they come to the studio,” Yan said. “I decided maybe it’s time to open a restaurant so I can serve the food that I love, the food which I learned from all the masters and all the home cooks from all over Asia.” 

The restaurants are being tested through a joint venture between Hong Kong-based Favorite Restaurants Group and Louisville, Ky.-based Yum! Brands Inc., the parent of KFC, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, A&W and Long John Silver’s. 

But Yan said he didn’t just want his name slapped onto a sign and menu. Instead, he said he wanted to be involved with something in which he could take pride, so he assembled a team of top chefs to help open the restaurants and train employees to serve dishes from a variety of Asian countries. 

He also served as a consultant for the restaurants’ design, which features an open grill and stoves allowing customers to watch their food being made. Traditional cooking utensils from all over Asia, such as bamboo steamers, rice bowls and decorative chopsticks, are displayed on the walls. 

And, of course, Yan himself is featured prominently on a large television doing everything from chopping chicken in his kitchen to dressing in costumes and acting out battles on the Great Wall of China. 

A native of Guangzhou, China, the 50-year-old chef grew up in his father’s restaurant and his mother’s cooking school. He moved to Hong Kong at 13 and lived in the restaurant where he worked. By 20, he was teaching cooking classes at the University of California, Davis, where he got undergraduate and master’s degrees in food science. He has since published two dozen cookbooks and hosted more than 2,000 TV shows. 

“This is how they do it in Asia,” he said after cooking up a braised shrimp dish as flames shot up around the wok. “The restaurant is a theater. Just like Disney, we’re all cast members.”