On Yin Yang & Balance
Martin Yan Interview by Kate Heyhoe
Kate: So much of Chinese cooking is based on a yin yang balance of flavors—how can you really teach that? In that it's not just a recipe.
Martin: Actually, yin and yang philosophy is one the Chinese follow not just in the preparation and cooking of food, but everyday life. For instance, if you love certain things, you learn always to watch out that you do not have too much of one thing—even exercise, even making money, even success. If somebody is too successful, making too much money, then they have lost sight of who they are, of the family values. They don't have time to spend with the parent or with the children. So the idea of yin and yang is a practiced philosophy where people learn to have a more well-balanced life. And food is the same. When you go to a Chinese restaurant, when you order and prepare Chinese food, you got to watch out. You don't want to have too many deep fried dishes. You don't want too many dishes all with meat. You want to balance the meat with the vegetable dish, and you want to balance the sweet and sour with some lighter fare. You want to balance deep fried dishes with steamed dishes. It's all about balance.
Kate: You teach so many students, but do you ever find that some students just don't get the concept?
Martin: Well for me, I do it in a layman's terms. For instance, forget about the words yin and yang. We're talking about balance. Balance is very simple. It's something that everybody understands, and also when you have a good balance and well being, it's just like health. You are what you eat. When you eat the right thing, you observe that basic principle. It's a principle, the Chinese just happen to call it yin and yang, but it's like when we say "Eat a balanced diet." Everybody in North America can understand when we say if you eat a balanced diet, and exercise, you'll be healthy. Balanced diet is the same thing as yin and yang, it's just the Chinese way of saying A Balanced Diet.
Kate: Well, Martin, you're a perfect example. You're running around all the time, you look the same as you did twenty years ago. You haven't changed. You're like Dick Clark.
Martin: I haven't changed? In fact I actually look better everyday [laughter]. No, I don't smoke, my life style is very simple and when I have a situation that is very tensed and stressed, I go out to the garden and look at the fish. I have a little koi pond, just like many Asians, I have a little bonsai, and in the summer I have my vegetable garden. So to me, everything that I do is to keep in touch, to be in contact with nature. That's the same reason why I cook. When you cook, it's like gardening, you are so in touch with what you do, you touch it, you feel it. And cooking is the same, you have to use your hands, you have to touch it, you have to look at it, you have to smell it. So everything I do is very simple, down to earth, I live a very simple life.
Martin Yan Interview
- Full Interview (one page)
- On The Different Cultures and Symbols of China
- A Trip Through China: Food of The Provinces
- On Chinese Chefs In The U.S.
- On Yin Yang & Balance
- On Chefs & Artists
- On Kids & Cooking
- On The Future of Yan
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This page originally published as part of the electronic Gourmet Guide between 1994 and 1998.
Modified October 2007