Although Yan started teaching out of necessity, the experience confirmed her desire to share her love of cooking with others.
“I found immense pleasure in watching others enjoy learning to cook and sharing their new skills with my family and friends,” he said. “Through education, I was able to continue my education at UC Davis and develop my confidence and personality. Without these experiences, I could not possibly have had a career in television.
A star is born
Yan’s television career started by accident while he was on hiatus as a graduate student at UC Davis. He was helping a high school friend open a restaurant in Calgary, Alberta. One day, he was asked at the last minute to be the guest conductor of a local Canadian talk show because the regular conductor had fallen ill. The producers knew Yan from visiting his friend’s restaurant. Although Yan had no experience in front of the camera, his affable personality won out. The producers asked him to come back, and soon Yan was offered a contract to host his own daily cooking show. He filmed 130 episodes in just 26 days of production.
After Yan returned to Davis, the show’s producers began calling her asking for her cookbook as they were inundated with recipe requests. Yan told his friends at UC Davis, and together they raised nearly $24,000 to help Yan publish his first cookbook, The Joy of Wokking: A Chinese Cookbook. The book sold out within months. Since then it has been reprinted many times.
Yan continued to host the cooking show for Calgary station CFAC-TV for three years. Then, in 1982, the PBS station in San Francisco began broadcasting the program “Yan Can Cook”. It quickly gained national and international airplay, making Yan one of the first people of Asian descent in the United States to host a daily cooking show. Since then, Yan has filmed over 3,500 half-hour TV episodes, airing worldwide, and “Yan Can Cook” has become an international brand.
An important part of his TV presentation and cookbooks is sharing insight into the culture and heritage of the countless places he has visited.
“We’ve traveled the world for 40 years to bring the best of history, culture, heritage and food to audiences around the world,” said Yan, who credited his idol Julia Child with inspiring his long and illustrious career. “I don’t just see myself as a cook, chef and restaurateur, but as a cultural and culinary ambassador.”
Yan remains a restaurateur in the United States and China and a sought-after speaker around the world. During the pandemic, it has partnered with 100 Chinese chefs and restaurants across the United States to provide free meals to those on the front lines. Thousands of meals have been delivered to hospitals and police. The team of “Yan Can Cook” has just finished filming “MY Chinatown” (Martin Yan’s Chinatown) to bring communities together to fight against Asian hate crimes.