Special Feature

On Chinese Chefs In the U.S.

Martin Yan Interview by Kate Heyhoe


Kate: Who do you think are the best Chinese chefs?

Martin: I would say the best known chefs—there are a lot of great chefs, but a lot of them are not well known. Just like American chefs and European chefs, there are a lot of people who are very talented, very creative, but they are not necessarily well known. In this country, the people who have influenced the public, are people like Ken Hom, who is very talented young man, and very flexible even thought he was born here, he has studied and has been very enthusiastic and dedicated to this field. And people like Eileen Yin-Fei Lo who teaches in the Chinese Institute in New York, and people like Susannah Foo from Philadelphia. She's very creative and comes up with many new things, and a lot of her restaurant's chefs are true Asian chefs from different parts of China. She practices her belief in terms of creativity. I'm more a traditionalist, and a teacher, so I have to teach very traditional techniques and skills.

Kate: That's so important, as Jacques Pepin talks about. Having the foundation, having the basics and then you can do anything.

Martin: You can create different things then. I still spend a lot of time working with Chinese chefs, traveling in China and Hong Kong and Asia, and learning from master chefs. Because Chinese cuisine—China is so immense. It's so huge. It's so vast, and yet China is not exactly a modern society. We go to Xian and we see something very, very traditional Xian. You go to Hunan, and you see something very traditional Hunan. By doing that, in order for you to really learn, you can't just go into a Hunan restaurant. Some of the restaurants—the Hunan restaurants, the Sichuan restaurants, other restaurants—they already have, not adultery, but they already have modified the dishes and the flavor profile and the choice of ingredients to make it acceptable to the North American palate. To travel is not just to get the tradition, but also to get inspired to see the history, the culture, the people. So when I talk, it's not just a dish—a recipe, a menu, signifies a long inference from history, culture, religion. So when I go over there, I get inspired, I learn about the roots and of the culture and I learn more about the different things. To me, traveling is not just simply to pick up a new recipe, but to work with people, to get to know the people, to really learn about the people and the life style and the culture. You have to understand the people, the geography, the soil the weather...


Martin Yan Interview


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This page originally published as part of the electronic Gourmet Guide between 1994 and 1998.

Modified October 2007